By John Jarvi
Local Sports Journal
FRUITPORT — Rookie Grand Haven Buccaneer football coach Jason Duram didn’t have to wait very long for his first victory.
Duram’s Buccaneers rallied for 10 points in the fourth quarter and came away with a 17-14 non-league victory over the host Fruitport Trojans at their renamed field Thursday night.
“We’re 1-0,” Durham said afterward. “I was proud we made the plays when we did.”
Neither team dominated the game, but both had their chances in the season opener for both teams.
Fruitport took a 14-7 lead in the third quarter only to have Grand Haven tie the score at 14-14 after a 16-play, 80-yard drive with 8:27 left.
The Buccaneers got the tying touchdown on a three-yard run by Joey Zelenka. Kicker Jacob Kostner booted his second extra point of the game and came back with the game-winning field goal with 3:13 to play.
A high snap over the quarterback’s head stopped Fruitport’s next drive and a short punt put Grand Haven on offense at the Trojan 28-yard-line with 6:13 left.
Six plays later Grand Haven had its second lead and the winning margin when Kostner kicked a 25-yard field goal from the left hash mark on a fourth down play from the Fruitport nine-yard-line.
“There wasn’t one second of hesitation on it,” Durham said. “We’ve got a field goal kicker.”
Fruitport mounted one more drive and advanced to the Grand Haven 25-yard-line before turning the ball over on downs. A fourth-down high snap again sailed over the quarterback’s head with 30 seconds to play.
Fruitport coach Greg Vargas said a rookie lineman had been moved to center after an injury to the regular player, and overall the substitute center played very well.
“We did what we wanted to do – run the ball and mix it a little with the pass,” Vargas said. “I was very proud of our boys’ effort. It was a couple plays here and a couple plays there.”
Both teams adjusted the game plan as play moved on.
Grand Haven used Schaefer Thelen at quarterback for a good portion of the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. Thelen ended up completing three of six passes for 38 yards and rushed 28 times overall for 127 net yards.
Overall the Buccaneers rushed for a net 193 yards on 47 carries and completed four of eight passes for 45 yards.
Thelen also had 13 tackles on defense while Matt Vanheest had 11 for Grand Haven.
Nate Kriger sparked Fruitport with 111 yards on 22 carries on offense and 15 tackles on defense. Levi Six also had 15 tackles for the Trojans while Jason Carmean and Wyatt Kendra each had a part in 11 tackles.
Fruitport rushed for 145 yards in 39 ties while quarterback Jarod Wierengo completed five of 12 passes for 87 yards.
The victory came in the first game of a two-year contract between the occasional football rivals. Fruitport has applied for membership in the O-K Conference for the 2016-17 school year, and Vargas wanted to toughen up the schedule for the Trojans.
“I asked for it, and that’s exactly what I wanted,” Vargas said. “We want to meet the challenge. We want to play.”
Fruitport leads the overall series between the schools 8-7, but Grand Haven now has won three games in a row thanks to victories during the 1998 and 1999 seasons. The series dates back to 1973, and Grand Haven now has won seven of the last 11 games played.
Pre-game ceremonies included the dedication of the new Robert H. “Doc” Pierce Field, which is the new name of Fruitport’s stadium. Pierce, who passed away in 2012, was the Trojan team physician for more than 40 years.
The ceremonies also included a moment of silence for two Grand Haven athletic officials who died in the last few months – former athletic director Robin Bye and former boys’ varsity basketball coach Steve Hewitt.