Injuries to key personnel can’t keep Rams down; Rockford goes to untried quarterback to reach Division 1 regionals
Rockford – The long-term prognosis for this year’s Rockford football team didn’t seem promising a couple weeks ago.
The Rams had just lost starting quarterback Jason Whitaker with a strained shoulder he suffered in the regular-season finale. And their all-state kicker, Quinn Nordin, the consensus No. 1 kicker in the country who committed to Penn State, was on the shelf with multiple injuries sustained during an on-sides kick attempt in week seven.
As it turned out, none of it mattered. Rockford (8-3) is still alive and well. And thriving.
“This is a resilient group,” Rockford coach Ralph Munger said. “I don’t think it ever crossed their minds that they wouldn’t win these last two games. They’ve rallied behind a common goal, which was to overcome adversity.”
Whitaker’s replacement, third-year starting safety Tyler Bradfield, has raced to the rescue and quarterbacked the Rams to wins in the first two rounds of the playoffs. His performance in crunch time last Friday in a rematch against Hudsonville in a Division 1 district championship game was outstanding.
Rockford trailed 13-0 entering the fourth quarter when Bradfield, who had never played quarterback before the team’s 24-6 victory over Grandville in the pre-district, placed his team on his back and carried them to the finish line.
Bradfield’s 72-yard touchdown run on the first possession of the fourth and an extra point by Nordin’s fill-in, Sam Corey, made it 13-7. Nordin did return to handle kickoffs and punts in the district final.
Bradfield’s 17-yard scoring strike to tight end Jackson Ammon midway through the quarter and another Corey conversion put Rockford on top to stay, 14-13.
Bradfield then capped his clutch effort leading a game-sealing drive down the field in the closing minutes of action, culminating with tailback Hunter Novak’s 2-yard touchdown run.
“Tyler’s the best pure athlete I’ve had come through this program in my 23 years at Rockford,” Munger said. “He’s that special of a talent, a one-of-a-kind type kid.
“We use him all over the place, so when Jason (Whitaker) went down, we said to ourselves as a coaching staff, let’s try him out at quarterback. He’s just a playmaker. He’ll make plays wherever you line him up.”
Munger, who has guided Rockford to three state titles in his tenure, began using Bradfield as a slot back last year, giving him the ball on carries in the backfield and passes down the field. Bradfield also returned kickoffs and punts, after being used solely as a defensive back his sophomore year.
“I’ll play wherever I have to for this team, we’re brothers, we play for each other,” Bradfield said.
Besides being an all-state safety, Bradfield is a standout on the baseball field and has committed to Oakland University.
Rockford had fallen to Hudsonville in the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons. Munger’s Rams will hit the road to play Grand Ledge (11-0) on Friday in a regional final.
“Grand Ledge is going to be a tough opponent, they’re deep and they’re fast,” said Munger. “There’s a reason they haven’t lost yet this year and they’ve gotten this far already. We won’t be intimidated though. We’re just going to go out and do what we do.”