Gamble pays off as Grand Rapids Christian beats East Grand Rapids to forge first-place tie in O-K Gold
GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids Christian’s Thad Gamble would have been content just to grind out a couple yards, keep the ball inbounds and not fumble on his last carry of the game.
What the junior running back got instead was a piece of school history.
Gamble’s stunning 99-yard touchdown run on Friday sealed a 24-21 win over rival East Grand Rapids that earned the Eagles a share of the O-K Gold lead with the Pioneers.
With Grand Rapids Christian clinging to a 17-14 lead and the ball resting virtually inches from the Eagles’ own goal line, Gamble was called to run what the Eagle playbook calls a "toss sweep" with just over two minutes left. Gamble admitted worrying about what a safety would cost the Eagles, but he still wanted the ball.
“Oh yeah, that was fun,” Gamble said of his third touchdown of the game. “I was a little nervous because I knew I had to get out of the end zone and not turn the ball over. But I wanted it.”
Gamble swept around right end and raced down the sideline for his longest run since an 85-yard scamper last season on junior varsity.
The Eagles had snapped a 14-14 tie on a 21-yard field goal by Dayne Weldy with 6:40 left. East Grand Rapids made it interesting at the end on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Jalen Broussard to Josh Weiss with 1:18 to go.
Both teams are now 4-1 in the O-K Gold. Grand Rapids Christian (6-2) qualifies for the playoffs and can clinch at least a share of the league title by beating Wayland next Friday. The Pioneers (5-3) need to beat Wyoming to make the playoffs and clinch at least a share of the title.
“It’s a big deal, our No. 1 goal,” Christian coach Don Fellows said of the Eagles finding themselves on the verge of a league title. “We haven’t won a league title since 2012. We’ve said all year we want to leave a legacy, hang a banner.”
Gamble, a junior who doubles as a linebacker, had a big night with a pair of 4-yard touchdowns and 166 rushing yards.
“We were nervous (about running the play),” Fellows said. “We knew a safety wouldn’t kill us. We just wanted out from where we were. It was a risky call.”
Grand Rapids Christian actually let a 14-0 lead slip away. EGR’s John Sheldon scored on a 6-yard run and another from 2 yards to tie the game 14-14 with eight minutes left in the third quarter. Sheldon wound up rushing for 151 yards.
“Grand Rapids Christian is a good team, we just made too many mistakes to beat them,” said EGR coach Casey Longo, whose club had won the teams’ last two meetings 28-7. “We had too many turnovers. But I’m proud the kids didn’t pack it in when we were down 14-0. It could have been all gloomy, but they responded.”
Fellows said he was confident that a young team which relies on 16 underclassmen was able to bounce back from last week’s upset loss to Grand Rapids South Christian that dented the Eagles’ title hopes.
“I think the kids handled it well. We addressed it and then let it go. You’ve got to be positive,” Fellows said. “This was a rivalry game and we just kept playing.”