Grandville claims District title with first win over Rockford since 2005
GRANDVILLE - It took a play that Grandville's football team often practices but rarely uses to snap a 13-game losing streak to a longtime rival.
On a night when the team's vaunted offense struggled, Grandville turned a blocked punt into a touchdown that propelled the Bulldogs to a 20-9 win over OK Red rival Rockford in Friday's Division 1 district final at Bulldogs Stadium.
It was the team's first block since blocking one in last year's playoff loss to the Rams and is a play rarely used by Grandville. It came with 10:57 left in the third quarter after the Rams had stonewalled Grandville in the first half en route to a 3-0 lead.
Grandville senior linebacker Connor Fischer broke through the line to block the punt and senior defensive back Isaak Opatik recovered the ball for a touchdown on a play that monumentally turned around the game's momentum. It was also a play that the Bulldogs pick their spots to attempt.
"Every day we work on it," Opatik said of the punt. "It was by design. We practice it; the coaches always have us put the time in."
The block reinvigorated an offense which missed a field goal, failed on a fourth-and-1 from the Rockford 7-yard line and failed to convert another fourth down play at midfield that eventually led to a 26-yard field goal by the Rams' Eric Zeboor with 3:29 to go in the first quarter. Grandville followed the blocked punt with two field goals of 40 and 35 yards by Gavin Peddie and a 4-yard touchdown run by Andrew Sundstrom for a 20-3 lead with 1:19 left in the game.
Grandville had more chances in the second half, but fumbled at the Rockford 2 and had two other drives stall in Ram territory.
It was the only time Grandville attempted to block a punt and it stunned Fischer.
"Everything seemed in slow motion," he said. "The line opened up, I hit it and got a hand on the ball. It was the best feeling in the world to do that against a rival. There's nothing like it."
Rockford's final score came on a 9-yard touchdown pass by Nate Anderson with 36 seconds left.
It was Grandville's first win over the Rams since 2005 and sends the Bulldogs into next week's regional against the winner of Saturday's game between Detroit Catholic Central and Novi.
Grandville coach Eric Stiegel said there is little doubt the game turned on the punt.
"It was a huge swing against a team generally good on special teams," he said. "We saw something we thought we could get to and it was the perfect call.
"When I came here three years ago I told people if we wanted to be an upper level team we needed to beat teams like Rockford. It was a huge win because we want to get to that level."
The game resembled the teams' first meeting in which defense ruled. Grandville (10-1) entered the game with four running backs averaging at least five yards per carry and had outscored opponents 410-52. Meanwhile, Rockford (7-4), which at one point this season ran off six straight wins, scored at least 30 points five times this season.
"We both have good offenses, but our defense has played well,"Stiegel said. "I'm not surprised it was a low-scoring game."