By Steve Gunn
NORTON SHORES – If Mona Shores football fans can take any comfort from Friday night’s encounter with Rockford, it’s that their team can overcome critical mistakes at crucial times against a very good team, and still make a game of it.
But in the end the Sailors could not overcome the performance of Rockford running back Jaiden Friesen, who ran for 211 yards and five touchdowns in the Rams’ 34-21 victory on Mona Shores’ home field.
Mona Shores, which came into the game ranked No. 1 in the state in Division 2, dropped to 3-1 on the season. Rockford, ranked third in Division 1, is now 4-0.
Friesen did a lot of damage when the Sailors could least afford it.
Mona Shores led 14-7 with just seconds left before halftime when Friesen broke loose for a 51-yard touchdown run. The PAT kick made the score 14-14 at the break.
Then late in the game, with Rockford clinging to a 27-21 lead and facing a fourth-and-one at the Mona Shores 37, Friesen broke through for another touchdown scamper to ice the victory for his team.
“He’s a big back,” said Mona Shores Coach Matt Koziak. “They do a great job. They don’t deviate from what they do, which is why they’ve been in the playoffs for 20-plus years. That’s a great football team, it was a great football game, but we’ve got to play better in games like this.”
The Sailors were their own worst enemies at key times, particularly in the fatal second half.
After falling behind 20-14 in the third quarter, Mona Shores mishandled a snap from center and Rockford jumped on the loose ball, giving the Rams first down at the Sailor 20. The Mona Shores defense held its ground, forcing Rockford to attempt and miss a 31-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, and it looked like a new ballgame.
But the Sailors were flagged for roughing the kicker, a 15-yard penalty, and two plays later Friesen scored from a yard out. The extra point put Rockford up 27-14.
Mona Shores fought back, scoring on a 5-yard run by Brady Rose with 1:22 left in the game, and the extra point pulled the Sailors within striking distance at 27-21.
Mona Shores then tried an onside kick, but the ball went out of bounds and Rockford took over at the Sailor 46. The Sailor defense again held tough, forcing the Rams into the fourth down situation with 1:05 remaining, before Friesen nailed the coffin shut with his final touchdown run.
“We didn’t execute when we had to, but a lot of that had to do with Rockford and their scheme,” Koziak said. “You can’t get behind the sticks against Rockford.”
Rockford took the opening kickoff of the game, drove 77 yards on 14 plays, and scored on a 4-yard run by Friesen. The Sailors answered on their first possession, driving 71 yards on eight plays for a TD, which was scored on a 31-yard run by Rose. The extra point made the score 7-7.
The teams traded punts after that, then the Sailors went up 14-7 midway through the second quarter on a 19-yard touchdown run by Tre Hatcher.
That lead nearly held up until halftime, but a tough decision took that opportunity away.
The Sailors faced a fourth-and-three at the Rockford 43 with under a minute left in the half. They decided to go for the first down, but were stopped short, giving Rockford the ball with 25 seconds left. Friesen broke loose for his 51-yard touchdown on third-and-14 from the Rockford 49, and the Rams went into the locker room with the momentum.
“There is still another half to play, but going in 14-7 instead of 14-14 is really different, for sure,” Koziak said.
That led to the second-half mistakes by the Sailors and three more Friesen touchdowns, and Mona Shores had its first loss of the season.
While Koziak was disappointed with the loss, he credited the players for staying in the game despite their errors. He also encouraged them to remember the pain of the loss and use it for motivation down the road.
“Ultimately you want to win football games,” the coach said. “The kids work extremely hard, so this should hurt and this should feel bad, because this is what they work for. We don’t want them to forget what this feels like. They should draw energy from this.”
Hatcher led the Sailors with 71 yards on 10 carries while Rose finished with 67 on five carries. Cam Sobish led the defense with 12 tackles and Gary Humphrey recorded nine.