By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart

MUSKEGON – Alex Carder obviously hasn’t lost his touch.

Carder, the West Michigan Ironmen’s star quarterback for the first four years of their existence, retired before last season for personal reasons.

He didn’t end up missing much, because the Ironmen only played one game before the season was cancelled by COVID.

Carder made everyone happy when he announced he was coming back this season, and he made an impressive return on Saturday, throwing for 91 yards and four touchdowns as the Ironmen destroyed the Chicago Power 57-0 in their season opener at Mercy Health Arena.

Carder and the Ironmen won’t have much time to enjoy the win, because they will return to action next Friday night at home against the Carolina Predators at 7:15 p.m.

Mike Wynn finds open room to run as No. 99 Dyron White follows. Photo/Leo Valdez

“I was dealing with some work and life balance things,” Carder said about sitting out last season. “Now I am in a different space. I needed that year away. I am so grateful for the opportunity to come back and play in front of fans, because who knew when we were going to get to do it again.

“I found myself being interested in football again like I was a kid. It gets this time a year, and I found out they are going to do it, so I figured why not. I am 31 years old and Tom Brady won a Super Bowl at 42, so I am not ready to hang it up just yet.”

There were other offensive standouts, as well. John Ross was the leading receiver with three catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns. Marcus Smith had three catches for 38 yards.

“I think offensively we were hitting it on all cylinder today,” said Ironmen Coach Nate Smith, whose team was playing its first game since March 6, 2020. “With having Alex (Carder) back, he makes reads a lit bit quicker and probably faster than normal.”

Ironmen QB Alex Carder makes a pass near the end zone. Photo/Leo Valdez

Just as impressive was the Ironmen defense, who kept constant pressure on Chicago quarterback Andre Locke and forced the visitors into many costly errors.

Two of those errors came when Chicago was threatening to score, but Locke threw two passes that were intercepted in the Ironmen end zone and returned 50-plus yards for touchdowns. Jamal Abbey had the first pick-six and BJ Foy had the second.

Overall the Ironmen had three interceptions, with Foy snagging a second one near the end of the first half.

The Ironmen sacked Locke five times. Two were by Nick DeKraker, while Derek VandemBosch, Jamal Abbey and Clay Oliver each collected one.

“The defensive line played really well tonight,” Smith said. “Early on we were giving their running backs some lanes to run through. Once we made the adjustments it shut everything down.”

The outcome of the game was never in question.

Dakota Smith celebrates after making a play for West Michigan. Photo/Leo Valdez

The Ironmen had a 13-0 lead after one quarter. Carder hit John Ross with a 35-yard touchdown pass less than two minutes into the game, then Abbey picked off a Chicago pass in his own end zone and returned it all the way to the Power end zone.

The second quarter was more of the same. Carder threw a two-yard TD pass to Mike Wynn, Dakota Smith had a three-yard scoring run, and Carder threw a 15-yard scoring strike to Ross, giving West Michigan a 34-0 lead at halftime.

Foy got his pick-six early in the second half, running the ball end zone to end zone. Carder threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Keondre Craig later in the third, and the Ironmen led 48-0 heading into the fourth.

West Michigan’s Jordan Hill caught Chicago in the end zone for a safety in the fourth quarter, then backup quarterback Tyler Fehler added a four-yard touchdown run to complete the scoring.

Keyondre Craig catches the ball in the end zone with No. 5 John Ross nearby. Photo/Leo Valdez

The game was delayed at least a half hour in the third quarter when West Michigan defensive back DJ Goodrum was injured and on his back after play near the boards. He was finally able to take his feet and wave to the crowd, and was rolled off on a stretcher.

Coach Smith said he will be fine.

“He is good,” said Smith. “He lost a little feeling early on but had full movement.”


WM 12:40- John Ross 35-yard catch from Alex Carder (two-pt failed)  WM-6 Chi-0
WM 5:25- Jamal Abbey 50-yard interception return (Carder kick)  WM-13 Chi-0

WM 8:04-Mike Wynn 2-yard catch from Alex Carder (2-pt good) WM-21 Chi-0
WM 1:00-Dakota Smith 6-yard run (kick failed) WM-27 Chi-0
WM :27-John Ross 15-yard catch from Alex Carder (Carder kick) WM-34 Chi-0

WM 8:16-BJ Foy 52-yard interception return (Carder kick)  WM 41- Chi-0
WM :58-Keyondre Craig 4-yard catch from Alex Carder (Carder kick)  WM-48 Chi-0

WM 14:45-Safety Jordan Hill  WM-50 Chi-0
WM 6:30- Tyler Fehler 4-yard run (Carder kick)  WM-57 Chi-0