Rockford edges Hudsonville in last minute thriller
Hudsonville – It was just the sort of thriller everyone anticipated from O-K Conference Red Division rivals Rockford and Hudsonville on Friday at Hudsonville.
The outcome came down to a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute.
The host Eagles (3-1) opted to go for the win after scoring on a 36-yard pass on fourth-and-6 with 56.5 seconds remaining. A botched center snap cost Hudsonville a chance at converting the two-point conversion.
The Rams (4-0) escaped with a 28-27 victory.
"To be part of it is pretty special – the atmosphere, the venue, the competition," Rams coach Ralph Munger said of facing Hudsonville, which Rockford defeated in the 2013 regular season, before falling to the Eagles in the postseason, 19-14. "Both teams could’ve won it and both teams could’ve lost it.
"It’s the way it is when you have two heavyweights slugging it out."
Rockford (4-0) snapped a 21-21 tie with 2:45 left in the fourth quarter. Senior quarterback Landen Haney faked out the Eagles with a nifty play-action pass over the top of the defense to senior tight end Reid Martin for a 47-yard touchdown. Martin stiff-armed his final pursuer to stretch the ball into the end zone.
Hudsonville (3-1) responded with a stunning passing play of its own.
Senior quarterback Mason Opple (9-19, 148 yards, two interceptions) fired a touchdown pass on fourth down to senior receiver Kaden Kempker along the left sideline.
It set up the Eagles for a chance to steal the contest.
Immediately following a timeout to make sure everyone was clear about the play call, the center snap skidded along the ground. Opple had trouble chasing after the loose ball, and the Rams blanketed him.
"We had the play called. Unfortunately, we had a fundamental breakdown," Eagles coach Dave Lidgard said. "If you have a chance to win the game and you’re playing at home against Rockford, you go for it every time.
"I told our team if we had 100 opportunities to go for two, we would go for it 100 times."
Munger praised Lidgard for making the courageous call to go for the win in front of a crowd of 8,307.
"Hey, right now, win it or lose it," he said.
The failed two-point conversion spoiled an impressive comeback by the Eagles, who rallied from a 21-7 deficit midway through the third quarter.
Opple (23 carries, 97 yards) darted through the middle of the Rockford defense for a 16-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He threw a 19-yard scoring pass to junior receiver Cooper Cecchini at the 4:17 mark of the fourth quarter.
"He’s a guy who thinks he can make every play," Lidgard said of Opple.
Rockford used four big plays to set up all of its scores.
Its first touchdown came when Opple overthrew a receiver and was intercepted by senior cornerback Spencer Andrus, who picked up blockers along the way and returned the ball 37 yards into the end zone.
The Rams got a 48-yard punt return from junior Tyler Bradfield in the final minute of the second quarter to set up another score. Bradfield was tripped up at the 2-yard line by Opple, who also handles the punting chores for the Eagles, and Rams teammate Ethan LaCourt (4 carries, 54 yards) scored two plays later.
The Rams took the second-half kickoff and marched 70 yards for their third score.
It was set up by a double handoff first involving LaCourt, who took a handoff and then transferred the football to Bell, who rambled 50 yards before being tackled at the Hudsonville 12-yard line. Five rushing plays later, Haney following his offensive line’s push into the end zone for a 14-point lead.
"We did," Munger said when asked about the impact of Rockford’s big plays in the contest, "But they had some big ones, too.
"This game was just going to be that way."
Opple put Hudsonville on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter with a 2-yard run. The Eagles dominated the game statistically finishing with 18 first downs to just five for the Rams.
"Our guys at halftime were very discouraged because of two plays," Lidgard said of the interception return for a touchdown and long punt return that set up the go-ahead score for the Rams in the first half.
"As frustrated as we were, we made some adjustments," he added.