Week No. 5 was a special night throughout southwest Michigan. First it was a beautiful 70 degree night with a light south wind blowing. Second, Schools were having their homecomings. Third, the West Ottawa High School Panthers hosted the Rockford Rams. It was a Special Night for a young fan sitting near us who had his “Go Panther” sign autographed by Desmond Morgan . But the biggest reason it was a Special Night was because of the Special Teams plays, which would ultimately go Rockford’s way, 20-13 yet another win over West Ottawa.
Yes, this game was decided on three Special Teams plays. However, it was a lot more special for Rockford than for West Ottawa. After controlling the game for the entire half and at times dominating, West Ottawa found itself down at the half by a touchdown 6-0. West Ottawa held the visiting Ram’s usually unstoppable offense to a few first downs and no scoring drives during the first half .
The Special of the this half was a play by Rockford’s special teams and db/kick return specialist Tyler Bradfield. showing his heels to the Panthers’ kick team with a punt return of 60 yards. One sensed that West Ottawa coaches were concerned about kicking to Rockford whose Special teams are full of quick, agile blockers and well prepared. West Ottawa had reason to worry as the Rockford’s punt returner, took that punt raced across the punt return formation making one defender miss , turned the corner and out sprinted the West Ottawa coverage team to the end zone. Then came Rockford’s only special team mistake of the game , a missed point after attempt.
The first half featured strong defense by the West Ottawa front and defensive backfield. Panther front defenders Bedford, Fletcher, Ryan, and Van Tubergen along with a backfield Dekker, Bakker, Trammel and Sok shut out the Rockford offense for the first two quarters and stretched the defensive shut our string to four-and-a-half quarters against EGR then Rockford. Nor was the Rockford defense slacking the first half as it kept the West Ottawa offense out of the end zone.
While West Ottawa showed signs of moving on Rockford both in the air and on the ground in the first half, Rockford’s always solid defensive backfield play shut down potential threats and their three /four front blitzed, confused and penetrated enough to keep WO out to the end zone .
After the Queen and King crowning, made special by the younger brother stand-in of Mr. McNitt as King, West Ottawa received the second half kickoff. The scripted third play from scrimmage worked to perfection as Toni Sok blew by the Rockford defense and a grabbed McNitt’s pass in stride for a 73 yard touch down completion. The PAT missed and the game was tied, 6 to 6.
Then came the backbreaker Special Team play of the night. West Ottawa’s kicker tried the same pooch kick over the Rockford front line blockers that had opened the game. It was a good kick except that the speedy Bradfield was there to receive it and sprint to the center of the field. The Rockford blockers prepared a lane and No. 5 disappeared through it going untouched for a 60 yard TD. West Ottawa’s lead had lasted about 8 seconds and this time the PAT was good. West Ottawa 6 Rockford 13.
As the half progressed, West Ottawa continued to move the ball against Rockford. James Lacy had several nice gains and McNitt completed several passes ( 220 yards passing for the night) . But again, the Rockford Ds’s are solid tacklers. Additionally, the Rockford defensive backfield played the speedy West Ottawa receivers straight up, man for man. This gave the Rockford stunting line and line backers freedom to harass and sack McNitt. West Ottawa was able to complete passes but not sustain a driver.
The last Special play for Rockford was the least special for West Ottawa as their usually sure handed kick return man rushed up on a line drive punt only to have it bounce of the pads. Huge Special Teams play number three and Rockford first down at West Ottawa’s 20 yard line. Thus came the time of a the game where champions excel and those that aren’t , don’t. In five plays, Rockford made their only successful drive of the night the dearest one. And at 7:01 of the fourth, they took a commanding lead 20-6.
As we saw against East Grand Rapids, there is no quit in the Panthers and a long run by Lacy was finished by a 10-yard touchdown by McNitt at 1:16 remaining, 20-13. Then West Ottawa lined all their kick team on the near boundary and the kicker on the far hash mark. Rockford had a man deep favoring the near hash mark and the Rockford defenders bunched on the left boundary with only two defenders to the far side.
If ever there was a time for the Pooch kickoff, this was it. Two speedy backs might have been able o beat the Rams to a well timed Pooch kick lobbed over the line. But as it was, the on side kick into the good hands crowd failed. I think Coach Munger for Rockford has seen that play before. Of course, he has seen most every play before. Rockford ran out the clock and won 20-13.
Rockford moves to 4-1 and West Ottawa falls to 3-2 with two losses by a touchdown each to Canton and Rockford. I suspect that the second week of the playoffs will see me and the West Ottawa Panthers at at The Ted for the post season rematch
A wise friend of mine once explained winning. He said that teams who have been winning decade after decade somehow build into any new team that certainty of victory. Coaching is a huge part of that but there is more. Winning gets into the fabric of the community and their teams refuse to lose.
In this game, it was no accident that Rockford had a return man was there to take the Pooch kickoff. Nor was it magic or football voodoo that opened that lane to the goal line for him. Preparation is certainly part of that. Yet still, there is that a state of providence that exists with certain programs. Their teams make the plays when they need to; whether that be the first or the last quarter.
Winning is a refined taste … something to be savored. The Rockford Rams savor winning. West Ottawa has an opportunity to learn from this lose and to continue on down that winning road. See you at the Ted. You West Ottawa fans won’t have a hard time finding it. It’s massive and glistens in the Fall air.