In what was expected to be a tall test for the Bucs, Grand Haven put together their most complete football game of the year.
The Bucs’ caught a break right off the bat, as Northwestern quarterback commit Jason Whittaker was held out of the game due to injury.
On offense, the Bucs put together their best performance of the season, racking up more yards on their opening drive than their Week 4 total. Senior quarterback Adam Nelson, senior receiver Kellum Bridgeforth and senior tailbacks Malic Love and Charlie Young all had top-tier performances to keep Grand Haven in the game early.
A three-and-out start for Rockford showed the Grand Haven defense came to play. The offense followed suit with a solid drive down to the Rockford 29-yard line, before settling for a Jake Thayer field goal attempt.
The Rams, determined to avenge their rough start, blocked Thayer’s kick, returning it 71-yards to open up scoring. The ensuing drive for Grand Haven again showed promise as Nelson and Bridgeforth connected for another long pass play, while Love and Charlie Young both picked up receiving yards.
This time, a 41-yard try to Thayer went off without a hitch, putting the Bucs on the board with 4:19 remaining in the first quarter, trailing, 7-3.
Rockford would strike next for their lone first-half offensive touchdown to cap off an 80-yard drive, the extra point put them up 14-3 with two minutes to play in the first quarter.
The Bucs fumbled away their next drive at their own 30-yard line, giving the defense another chance to show up the Rams. They responded, forcing a Rockford turnover on downs with a booming fourth-down sack.
Stalled drives on both ends eventually yielded a Rockford 43-yard field goal as the first half expired to bring a 17-3 lead into halftime.
Both teams wasted their first drive of the second half. The Bucs punted away their first try, while Rockford suffered a rare special teams miscue on a missed field goal attempt.
The Bucs ensuing drive went for no gain, combined with a penalty on the punt gave the Rams a short field as they took over at the Grand Haven 17. It took just one running play for Rockford to score, extending their lead to 24-3.
Grand Haven would answer with a 50-yard passing touchdown from Nelson to Bridgeforth to pull back into the game. The made extra point brought them within two scores, 24-10, with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
From there, it was all Rams. A 60-yard drive capped off with a 1-yard touchdown run set up a fake extra point attempt, yielding a two-point conversion as the third quarter expired.
Rockford would piece together another long drive in the fourth to bring the game to its final score.
“We played one of our better games tonight, for sure, even if the score didn’t reflect that,” Grand Haven coach Joe Nelson said. “Rockford is a great program, their kids work hard and play hard. When you can hang with a team like that for a while that is a step in the right direction.
“We just need to keep our focus. Whether it is a blocked field goal or penalty or big play, things like that. We just need to keep the faith in what we are teaching and trying to do.”
It was a tale of two styles on the stat sheet, as Grand Haven racked up 204 yards of total offense with 146 coming in the air and 56 on the ground. Rockford amassed 281 total yards, with 48 passing and 233 rushing.
“We decided that was our game plan for them,” Nelson said of the passing preference. “We knew they were going to give us fits in the inside, and they have some great athletes against the running game, so we thought spreading them out would open things up for us.”
Grand Haven quarterback Adam Nelson finished 6-for-15 passing 146 yards and one touchdown. Charlie Young led from the backfield with 19 yards on 10 carries, ahead of Malic Love with 11 yards on five carries. Ryan Mattson finished with one carry for 18 yards.
Kellum Bridgeforth hauled in two receptions for 79 yards and one touchdown, while Love followed with 60 yards on three catches.
On defense, Collin Takas led the team with five tackles, ahead of Mattson with three. Logan Naperala recorded two tackles for a loss and one sack.
“There were so many sparks of greatness tonight. We need to make sure to turn the corner,” Nelson said. “When you play with a program like Rockford, it gives us confidence. Now, we have big homecoming week against Caledonia.”