Rockford comes back from 14-0 deficit, defeats Hudsonville, 28-27, to capture division title and qualify for playoffs
By Kelly Hill
Rockford – Less than two hours before Friday’s scheduled kickoff of his Rams’ Ottawa Kent Conference Red Division showdown against visiting Hudsonville, Rockford coach Ralph Munger learned that his starting quarterback, 6-4 sophomore Jason Whittaker, would not be able to play.
Munger’s concern immediately turned to his other players, and how they would respond to this late-breaking adversity. Less than six minutes after that kickoff he knew how they had responded, and he didn’t like it. The Rams trailed the Eagles by two touchdowns.
Although concerned, Munger was not worried. He knew the Rams had a rally within them, “if they decided to play.” According to junior running back Nick Isley, the Rams “decided to play,” when the Eagles scored that second touchdown.
It took an 18-play, 69-yard drive that consumed the first 8:08 of the fourth quarter but, with 3:52 left to play, the Rams finally completed their comeback, taking a 28-27 lead on a 4-yard touchdown run by senior running back Brendan McKellar.
An interception by sophomore Marcus Remtema in the final minute secured the 28-27 victory, a share of the division championship and an automatic playoff berth.
“We had had our heart yanked out of us, being told at 5:20 that our quarterback wasn’t able to play,” Munger said. “Our game plan was the least of my concerns; my concern was how the boys were going to respond, because these boys all care about each other.”
Rockford (6-3, 5-1) fell behind 7-0 on a 6-yard touchdown run by junior Dalton Agers and then trailed 14-0 after junior quarterback Jack Mandryk scampered 11 yards into the end zone.
“I still knew that we were OK, if they decided to play,” Munger said. “If we catch fire we are capable of doing some very nice things. To be able to come out and play the way they did, can you imagine how proud I am of them?”
The Rams got on the board in the final 90 seconds of the first quarter on a 52-yard TD run by Isley, and closed the gap to four midway through the second quarter on a 29-yard field goal by junior Sam Corey.
“We were surprised, but it motivated us to play harder,” Isley said of getting the late news that Whittaker would not play. “When we got behind I knew we had it in us to come back. As soon as they scored that second touchdown we went out there and were ready to go.”
Mandryk, who rushed for 168 yards in the game, gave Hudsonville (6-3, 4-2) a 21-10 lead on a 5-yard touchdown run in the final two minutes off the second quarter, but Isley, who finished the game with 177 rushing yards, bolted 64 yards for a score with 1:13 left in the first half.
On the fourth play of the second half, Mandryk’s 61-yard touchdown run gave the Eagles a 27-17 lead. But the extra-point kick was blocked by Rockford senior Tyler Bradfield, who also had stepped in for Whittaker at quarterback.
A safety and a 28-yard Corey field goal later in the third quarter brought the Rams to within five, 27-22.
The final play of the third quarter was a Hudsonville punt that gave the Rams the ball on their own 31. Eighteen plays, 69 yards and more than eight minutes later, Rockford’s Rams finally finished what their coach knew they could.
“That gives us six,” Munger said, “so we’re invited to the dance.”
Hudsonville lost to Rockford in the regular season in each of the last two seasons but eliminated the Rams in the playoffs on both occasions.
“This was an unbelievable high school football game,” said Hudsonville coach Dave Lidgard. “Both teams played so hard. They had some adversity on their side, but they play so hard at home. We said that if we had a chance to win in the fourth quarter we’d be happy, and we had that. We have to credit their guys for making the plays.”