By Tom Kendra

GRAND HAVEN – So much for easing basketball stars Travis Ambrose (6-7) and Jaxson Whitaker (6-3) into the Reeths-Puffer football attack.

The two giant wideouts, college basketball prospects who were recruited to play football their senior year, had an immediate impact in Puffer’s 41-13 victory at Grand Haven, in a game which started Thursday night and finished Friday afternoon.

Ambrose opened the scoring for R-P with a 13-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and added a 10-yard TD grab just before halftime, finishing with 67 receiving yards.

Whitaker did not have a touchdown, but he hauled in two long balls over the middle and led the Rockets with 102 receiving yards.

Photo/Joe Lane II

The trigger man on all of those receptions was 6-3 senior quarterback Antrel Jones, who looked remarkably poised and comfortable in his first varsity start – stepping in for departed senior Brady Ross, who is now coaching quarterbacks for the Rockets.

Jones put up NFL-like numbers, completing 13-of-18 passes for 301 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

He showed remarkable touch on his short throws, along with uncanny accuracy on longer heaves. Jones completed four passes of 30-plus yards – two to Whitaker (57 yards and 45 yards) and two to senior slotback Kameron Coleman (66 yards and 31 yards).

The trio of Jones, Ambrose and Whitaker, along with the return of two-time, 1,000-yard rusher Brody Johnson, could give the Rockets what it takes to deliver a “signature win” this fall – i.e., a victory over O-K Green Conference powers Muskegon, Mona Shores or Zeeland West.

Puffer (1-0) won its opener over Grand Haven for the second-straight year, after the Buccaneers had won six of the past seven meetings.

Photo/JoeLane II

The game started on Thursday night in sweltering conditions at Buccaneer Stadium, with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees and the heat index on Gene Rothi Field topping 100 degrees.

Play was postponed shortly after the second quarter started on Thursday, when a line of thunderstorms and heavy wind moved in off Lake Michigan, with Puffer holding a 14-7 lead.

The teams were not able to resume the game on Thursday night even after the lightning moved out of the area, because Grand Haven had school on Friday, and Michigan High School Athletic Association rules state that athletic contests cannot resume after 9 p.m. on a school night.

But in that short amount of playing time on Thursday, Puffer fans and any scouts that were on hand could see that this will be an entirely different Rocket team than a year ago.

Last fall, in Cody Kater’s first year, R-P relied on the quick feet and decision-making of senior quarterback Brody Ross in the veer attack. This year, the Rockets have a more traditional pocket passing attack with Jones & Co.

 Grand Haven (0-1), which was looking to get a win in the first game for Coach Andrew Biedenbender, actually struck first on a 45-yard run by Dean Mattson, before Jones got to work.

Jones connected with Whitaker on a deep route over the middle to kickstart the offense, then feathered in a perfect, fourth-down pass to Ambrose, who showed some great hands to hold on in traffic for a 13-yard touchdown to tie the game.

Then early in the second quarter, Jones hooked up with senior slotback Bryce Ross to make it 14-7 before the weather moved in.

Photo/Joe Lane II

Puffer picked up right where it left off when play resumed at 1 p.m. Friday, with Jones connecting with Ambrose to make it 20-7.

Grand Haven struck back on a 10-yard scoring pass from junior Xzavier Rodriguez to Chase Robinson with just 3 seconds left in the first half, tightening the score to 20-13 at halftime.

Rodriguez, a dual-threat quarterback who also punts and kicks for the Bucs, completed 8-of-19 passes for 145 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

While the stage appeared to be set for a back-and-forth second half, Puffer had other ideas.

After Coleman opened up the second-half scoring with a 66-yard touchdown catch, the Rockets put the game away on the ground – with two 51-yard TD runs from Johnson, who finished with 18 carries for 164 yards.

Grand Haven was unable to score in the final two quarters against the Puffer defense, which was led by senior linebacker Caiden Bolduc with 11 tackles. Lineman Brooks Johnson and linebacker Eliot Schneider each made five tackles.

Jezsiah Sims and Ethan Muskovin each had interceptions for the Rockets.

Both teams hit the road next week for Thursday games – Puffer is at Farmington and Grand Haven is at Traverse City West.

Photo/Joe Lane II