“I was very happy with special teams,” said Rockford coach Ralph Munger, whose team is now 2-1 overall and 1-0 in league play. “It’s big any time you can capitalize on mistakes. Those plays were probably the difference makers, quite honestly.”
Grand Haven coach Mike Farley agreed.
“When you play a team like that, you can’t give them a lead at the beginning of the game,” said Farley, whose team is also 2-1 but falls to 0-1 in conference play.
“We had to battle back all game, and my guys never quit. It’s just one of those things, you can’t play Rockford and spot them 14 points.”
The Bucs’ quick-strike offense kept things interesting as quarterback Scott Staal threw for a season-high 328 yards on 20-of-37 passing. Running back Dakota Smith also had a big offensive effort for the Bucs, rushing for 92 hard-earned yards on 25 carries, including touchdown runs of 1 and 6 yards. Smith also hauled in a 21-yard scoring pass from Staal.
Smith’s first touchdown run, followed by Alex Eidson’s 40-yard field goal, helped the Bucs get back to within four points at 14-10 late in the first quarter. Grand Haven used a little razzle-dazzle to get into field goal range. They ran a double-reverse from their own 34-yard line, with the ball being pitched back to Staal, who found Jeremy Lattig behind the Rams’ defense for a 49-yard gain.
Rockford took a 21-10 lead into halftime thanks to Brady Gent’s 39-yard scoring run with just 17 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
The second half was dominated by Rockford’s giant offensive line, including Ben Braden (319 pounds), Alex Welch (279), Ivy Johnson (287), Erik Smoes (250) and Justin Hopkins (240). That group paved the way for the Rams to rush for 334 yards on 44 carries. Rockford didn’t attempt a pass after halftime.
“In the second half, our defense got warn down a little bit,” Farley said. “I don’t think they threw a pass in the second half. They did a great job controlling the clock.”
The Rams went on three long scoring drives in the second half, featuring drives of 69, 45 and 79 yards. Gent scored on runs of 14 and 1 yards, and Darby added an 11-yard touchdown run.
Gent finished with 163 rushing yards for Rockford while Darby added 127. Quarterback Kyle Short was just 2-of-6 passing for 17 yards.
The Bucs kept things close thanks to its big-play capability on offense. Staal, despite being under heavy pressure for much of the game, was able to pick up big chunks of yardage when he had time to throw the ball. He completed four passes during an 80-yard drive that was capped off by Smith’s 6-yard touchdown run, drawing the Bucs to within 12 points at 35-23.
Staal then completed six passes, including a 1-yard scoring strike to Matt Kroll, with 1:07 remaining in the game to make it 42-30.
The Bucs recovered an onside kick and drove down to the Rams’ 22 before running out of time.
Grand Haven was attempting to make it back-to-back wins over rival Rockford. Now the Bucs will have to hope for another shot at the Rams in the state playoffs.
“We’ve had a nice little rivalry with them the last three seasons,” Farley said.
Munger said the loss to Grand Haven a year ago may have been discussed, but downplayed the amount of significance it carried with his team.
“This is a different year, different kids, a different team,” he said. “We talked about it a little bit, but didn’t put a lot of emphasis on it.”
Grand Haven will look to bounce back next week as the Bucs play host to Jenison.