FRUITPORT – There were moments of brightness for Fruitport on Friday night. However, moments alone do not win football games.
Jenison quarterback Jaden VanDalsen relied on senior wideout Nicholas Rathsack heavily, and the two combined for a pair of touchdowns late in the first half to steal momentum en route to a 56-21 victory. The Wildcats scored 42 unanswered points in the game’s middle two quarters.
Despite a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown from senior Ethan Flores, the Trojans were unable to keep a high-powered Wildcat offense out of the end zone.
If it wasn’t those two offensively for the Wildcats, it was senior slot receiver Zymarius Walker, who scored three touchdowns. His speed on the edge was simply too much for the Trojans to contend with defensively.
“They capitalized on our penalties,” Fruitport head coach Nate Smith said. “Any time you make mistakes, the other team will capitalize and it puts you in a tough spot.”
A quick-strike touchdown out of the halftime break killed the game off for the Wildcats, as a third down would spell trouble for the Trojan defense. A seemingly harmless slant to Walker became very dangerous after the senior turned on the jets, outrunning the Trojans for a 61-yard score that put the Wildcats up by three scores.
Following a turnover on downs, VanDalsen took it himself for a rushing touchdown with 7 minutes remaining in the third quarter. The 31-yard score made it 42-14 Jenison.
Another 52-yard score came with four and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter. VanDalsen’s fake and throw to a Rathsack ended in a touchdown, this time it was younger brother Richard that ended up on the receiving end to make it 49-14.
The Trojans continued to fight. Flores’ kick return with 4 minutes left in the half cut the lead to 49-21. Cutting through the middle of some solid blocking, the multi-sport star showed off his track speed to juke out the kicker before beating the Wildcats to the end zone.
“I just wanted to make a spark for the team,” Flores said. “I play for all my teammates. When I got the opportunity to make a play, I just ran as fast as I could.”
Here’s some postgame reaction from Fruitport’s Ethan Flores, who had a 97-yard kick return touchdown tonight: pic.twitter.com/1aJNzVHkC1— Kyle Turk (@KyleTurkGHT) September 14, 2019
Both sides of the ball gained some confidence, as the Trojans forced a turnover on downs and picked up a pair of first downs to move the ball deep into Jenison territory.
Unfortunately, the Trojans couldn’t convert a fourth down in Jenison territory, and Jenison would drain some clock at the start of the fourth quarter. A 5-minute drive ended in a turnover on downs, but a fumble on Fruitport’s next drive would end in an 11-yard rushing touchdown for VanDalsen.
Fruitport’s gameplan to work the clock offensively paid off handsomely early, as they received the opening kickoff and marched down the field. A pair of Flores first downs plus a third-down conversion in the red zone enabled Aiden Vela to score the first points of the night, taking a handoff from Zimmerman and bouncing off a tackle, stretching across the goal line for an 8-yard touchdown.
After an 8-minute opening drive, the Fruitport defense was tested early. Three straight Jenison first downs pushed the ball into Trojan territory, but from there, things tightened up. On 3rd-and-8, Zech Richardson was free off of a blitz and sacked Jenison quarterback Jaden VanDalsen to set up a fourth down. One incomplete pass later, Fruitport’s defense was off the field.
The Trojans wouldn’t be so fortunate the next time around. Walker used his speed effectively when allowed space, and his running was the major factor on Jenison’s next drive. The Wildcats marched down the field to tie the game with 8:35 left in the half, thanks to a 1-yard Walker touchdown following a Trojan three-and-out.
One play later, Fruitport would have their lead back. Zimmerman’s throw over the middle was a little high for Cooper, and deflected into the air off of the senior’s hand. Camden Ferrell’s route put the sophomore in perfect position to catch the deflected ball. He ran untouched into the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown, putting the Trojans up 14-7.
“I was just running a hitch,” Ferrell said. “We practice that type of drill [with a tipped ball] in practice. I saw the ball in the air and just grabbed it and did my thing from there.”
Jenison had a slight size advantage up front, and the Wildcat offensive line was able to use that effectively in the run game. Inside the Fruitport red zone, a third-down carry was stopped in the backfield for a loss, which set up another fourth down.
Needing three yards, the Wildcats got that and more from Walker, as he evaded a tackle near the line of scrimmage to scamper in from the 18, tying the game at 14 with just under three minutes left in the quarter.
Some Jenison trickery put them in Fruitport territory following a Trojan three-and-out. Faking a screen to the sideline, VanDalsen’s throw was caught in acres of space by Nicholas Rathsack. After another first down, VanDalsen connected again with Rathsack for a touchdown, taking the wind out of Fruitport’s sails with 37 seconds remaining in the half.
“Defensively we started well,” Smith said. “Early on we played with composure, but late in the game we kinda fell apart and it turns into a house of cards.”
Cooper’s attempt to catch another pass would hurt the Trojans on their next play from scrimmage. A similar throw was tipped in a similar fashion, and Jenison’s Caleb Dean was on hand to intercept, returning to the Fruitport 29.
One play later, VanDalsen connected with Rathsack for a second touchdown in as many offensive plays, this time from 29 yards out to add another touchdown with 12 seconds left in the half. The teams headed into the break with Jenison up 28-14. The Wildcats had not only the numerical advantage, but a ton of momentum.
For the Trojans, it’s a week back at the drawing board after a 1-2 start to the season. They’ll travel to Grand Rapids Union next week.