By Nate Thompson
And a desperate team is a dangerous team.
The Sailors could never grab the lead, however. Rockford sealed the deal with a clock-eating, game-clinching touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter to secure a 37-23 victory.
Rockford, which forfeited its first game of the season due to an outbreak of a virus that knocked out more than half of its roster, improves to 1-2 this season. Mona Shores is also at 1-2 and on its first losing streak in two seasons, following a tight setback against Zeeland West last week.
“We’ve got great kids with great character,” said Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak. “We’re very young, but I told the kids, they’ve got three varsity games under their belts against three very good teams. You’re not real young anymore.”
The Sailors showed their inexperience in the first half. They managed just 26 yards and had a turnover in a disastrous first quarter that saw Rockford jump out to a 14-0 lead.
The Rams scored on a 50-yard punt return by senior Conrad Hayes, and a terrific 23-yard scoring strike from junior quarterback Jason Whittaker to receiver Alex Blick.
The Sailors swayed the momentum some in the second quarter, battling back to 21-10 on a 33-yard field goal from Austin Flowers early in the quarter, and their most productive drive of the half – an 11-play, 80-yard series that was capped by a 2-yard plunge by senior Marcus Collins.
Collins, who was a dominant force as a ground-and-pound back in the opening two weeks, was routinely stuffed by the Rams’ front seven, forcing Koziak to rely more on end-arounds, option pitches and jet sweeps. Collins finished with just 14 carries for 41 yards.
Koziak turned to speed on the perimeter with players like junior Dee Davis and Kenta Watson, and the big-play ability of wide receiver Keyshawn Summerville.
Summerville, a 6-foot junior, turned a quick slant from quarterback Tristan Robbins into a 73-yard sprint midway through the third quarter, and two plays later, Davis scored on a 10-yard end around to help the Sailors claw to within 21-16.
Rockford answered right back on its ensuing drive, as its bruising tailback, 6-3, 200-pound senior Nick Isley, scored on a 22-yard delayed counter, and then on a two-point conversion pass to increase the Rams’ lead to 29-16.
Robbins and the Sailors again refused to quit. The junior signal caller – who completed only one pass in the first half – connected with Summerville on a deep heave that covered 67 yards, then Robbins scored on a tremendous 14-yard scamper through traffic.
Down just 29-23 with 9:55 left, Koziak felt the Sailors had an opportunity to steal a win.
“We’re down just six and I thought to myself, ‘Holy cow, we’re in this. They were having a hard time stopping us and maybe we’d get another crack at it,” the coach said.
But Rockford dug deep, with Isley running for 18 yards and catching a pass for another 18 to get the Rams into the red zone. Whittaker then rolled out and kept rolling to the end zone, scoring on a 11-yard run to seal the win.
Mona Shores had four minutes left to work with, but a Robbins fumble and Rockford recovery with 2:37 left ended all hope.
Summerville had four catches for 151 yards, while the Sailors ground game was led by Davis with 96 yards on 10 carries. Mona Shores totaled 376 yards of total offense.
Isley had 13 carries for 101 yards on the ground for the Rams, and Whittaker completed 10-of-15 passes for 132 yards in a balanced offensive attack.
Koziak said he expects his squad to bounce back with the opening of its O-K Black Conference season, beginning next week against rival Reeths-Puffer.
“It’s been kind of baptism by fire so far, but I know this group won’t quit,” he said. “They’re a really resilient group of kids.”