The Fruitport football team took on conference rival Reeths-Puffer on Friday in an O-K Black Conference road test. The Rockets and Mother Nature threw their best at the Trojans, handing them a 21-7 loss.
“We just asked the kids to come out and fight hard, and that is exactly what they did,” Fruitport head coach Greg Vargas said. “The defense kept us in the game with some big plays. At the end of the day, we just couldn’t get the ball rolling. We felt like we had things set up to be successful in the second half, but it didn’t go our way.”
The final minutes of the game were a crash course in dramatic setting. With 2:04 left to play, the Trojans found themselves down by just eight points. As the rain reached its heaviest downpour, Reeths-Puffer faced third-and-five at the Fruitport 34-yard line and went for a run up the gut as they had been all night. The Trojan defense sniffed it out, forcing a punt on fourth down.
Now, with 1:57 remaining in the game, Jakob Carlisle took over at his own 10-yard line with a chance for a legendary, game-tying drive through the monsoon. One try up the middle by running back Dominick Colegrove proved ineffective. With short time, Carlisle took to the air to save the game, only to throw a pick-6 and ice the Reeths-Puffer victory.
“You get down there at the end of the game and you have to take some risks,” Vargas said of the play call. “We were able to clear out and hit the slants, credit to coach Jewett, they snuck that safety in there and he made a nice little grab and return.
“When you put yourself in that situation, sometimes it happens that way. I’d rather do that than go four-and-out trying to ram-jam the ball. There was short time and we needed a score, that’s how it goes. Our kids fought hard, and I’m really proud of them.”
The game began with defense, as both squads were held scoreless through the opening quarter. Neither team could find their footing, even before the heavens opened.
The first drive of consequence was for Reeths-Puffer in the final minutes of the first quarter. The Trojans punted from deep in their own territory, enabling the Rockets to set up shop on the Fruitport 35-yard line, driving to the Trojan 3-yard line before the quarter ended.
Fruitport kicked off the second quarter with a goal-line stand, taking over on downs inside their own 5-yard line. Morale gained from the defensive stopped was quickly crushed, as the Rockets forces a safety on their first play of the drive.
The Trojans elected for a safety kickoff, sending the ball into Rocket territory. Reeths-Puffer scored quickly, needing just three plays to find the end zone. Fruitport would block the extra point, leaving the score at 9-0 with 8:39 left in the first half.
The Trojan offense continued to struggle, as Reeths-Puffer clogged up Dominic Colegrove’s running lanes, forcing a punt on their next possession. The Rockets took over on their own 49, driving 51 yards for a touchdown, this time nailing the extra point.
The final drive of the half saw two positive plays for Fruitport’s running game, but little progress overall, bringing Reeths-Puffers’ 15-0 lead into halftime.
“After they scored their first touchdown, we were able to say, ‘Hey, look. We played inside our own 10-yard line for four possessions and are only down one score.’ That was big,” Vargas said.
“We were able to talk that way at halftime and say, ‘Hey, we are in this game, it is not out of reach.’ The kids fought hard, you get the rain coming in the second half and it gets a little sloppy. It felt like whichever team kept their feet could come out on top.”
As the marching band took the field, the clouds finally burst, cutting their halftime show short and dousing the field. The rain would continue for the remainder of the game.
The Trojan defensive unit came out of halftime firing, limiting the Rockets to 15 yards on their opening possession, forcing a turnover -on-downs at midfield.
After another wasted Fruitport possession, Reeths-Puffer broke off a 60-yard run from and threatened to extend their lead. Once again, the Fruitport defense defended their red zone, forcing a turnover-on-downs.
This time, the offense didn’t waste the gift. Parker Tawney got the call in the backfield, punishing the Reeths-Puffer line for all the yards they had denied so far. With crushing runs between the tackles, Tawney marched the Trojans into the red zone, where Carlisle pulled the handoff and exploded around the edge, tapping the pylon for an 18-yard touchdown run to pull within eight points at the end of the third quarter.
“That was probably equal parts offensive line and Parker’s will,” Vargas said. “He is just a tough competitor. He is a captain and the kids look to him for leadership. He really came through today. I can’t say enough about what he means to our team.”
Reeths-Puffer would drive the length of the field to begin the fourth quarter, only to fumble away the possession at the Fruitport 3-yard line. The Trojans were forced to punt the ball away, triggering a lengthy Rocket drive and the game’s dramatic conclusion.
Jakob Carlisle would finish 3-for-8 passing for 49 yards to go with 33 yards rushing and one touchdown on 11 carries.
Parker Tawney finished with 63 yards rushing on 10 carries, ahead of Dominick Colegrove with 30 yards on 13 tries. Ethan Flores hauled in a few hyper-clutch catches to keep drives alive, finishing with three receptions for 49 yards.
On defense, Sam Steinhauer finished with 12 tackles with one for a loss, followed by Caden Holt with 10 tackles with one for a loss and one sack.
Fruitport returns to the field for their final game of the season at home against Mona Shores next week.