Varsity football opens season with first win over Grand Rapids Christian since 1995

Matthew Mahoney

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Varsity football opens season with first win over Grand Rapids Christian since 1995

The story of Friday’s game against Grand Rapids Christian was the second half, where the Rangers scored 21 unanswered points to defeat the Eagles 21-13. With less than two weeks of practice and no preseason scrimmages, the Rangers were thrust into the heat of battle against conference rival Grand Rapids Christian, so naturally, it took some time for them to get adjusted. Senior George Cobb, who had the game-clinching interception, attributed the much improved second half to just eliminating some simple mistakes.

“We actually played pretty well defensively in the first half too, but we just cut down on our mistakes and tackled much better,” George said.

Speaking of the slow start, it actually didn’t start off all that slow. The ball was returned by the Rangers close to their own 40-yard line, and seniors Joey Wise and Jonah Spates got the offense rolling early on. A 12-yard carry from Joey and an 11-yard reception from Jonah had FHC driving down the field, but the Eagles woke up as the Rangers entered their territory and held them to a turnover on downs at the GRC 34-yard line on the first drive of the game.

Fortunately, with some rust showing from the Eagles too, the FHC defense held GRC to a quick three and out. With Joey and junior Tyler Weaver taking the majority of the reps in the backfield, the Eagles weren’t fooled. The passing game hadn’t quite clicked at this point in the game, and the Ranger offense was playing relatively conservative. With not much going on the next drive for FHC, a drop pass from junior quarterback Hunter Robinson found the hands of junior Conner Milton, but the ball was fumbled and recovered by FHC at the Ranger 40-yard line. With a punt from junior Luke Gustafson, the Eagles took over at their own 32. 

After a couple of punts from both teams, the Eagles finally broke the seal. GRC quarterback Derrek Dykema rolled out the pocket and looked deep to wide receiver Marcellus VanderKodde, and after junior Evan Van Artsen tripped on the coverage, VanderKodde was wide open for the 55-yard touchdown with just under a minute to play in the first quarter.

Following some punts and turnovers from both sides, GRC running back Aviere Thomas broke free through multiple tackles for a 39-yard run to the FHC 6-yard line. On the next play, Dykema rolled out to his right and found his tight end for another score. After a blocked PAT from senior Carson Deines, the Eagles held a 13-0 lead.

For both sides of the ball, it took some time to get adjusted back to playing.

“It was definitely a little difficult at first trying to readjust and get into game mode,” George said.

Jonah agreed with George but added, “It was just great to be out there.”

Both Hunter and senior quarterback Maguire Mahacek started creating some more things for the FHC offense, and a throw from Maguire to Conner deep near the endzone was just dropped by Conner. The Rangers just couldn’t get it done on third downs early on, but fortunately, the FHC defense remained disciplined and stopped the Eagles again to minimize the damage. At halftime, the Eagles led 13-0. 

“We were just a little rusty [in the first half], and we simply needed to play harder and smarter than we had been,” said Hunter on the suboptimal first half.

With the Eagles receiving the kickoff, Jonah made an instant statement, hitting the GRC wide receiver hard for a very minimal gain. The Rangers forced an early punt, and the FHC offense followed suit. Hunter and Jonah connected for a crucial third-down completion, and Tyler quickly followed up with another first down on the ground. The next play, Hunter found the hands of junior Jacob Bonnett for a 35-yard reception where he was just pushed out at the GRC 5-yard line. A run from Carson in the backfield found the back of the endzone, and the Rangers’ quick response resulted in a 13-7 deficit with 6:30 left in the third quarter. 

The very next play after the kickoff was a game-changer. With all the momentum on the side of FHC, Dykema’s pass was intercepted by Tyler, and the Rangers found themselves with the ball on the GRC 12-yard line.

Hunter, who led the offense exceptionally all day in his varsity debut, ran the ball in from five yards out to give the Rangers a 14-13 lead toward the end of the third quarter. On the ground, Hunter was FHC’s leading rusher with 79 yards, and he completed 11/19 passes for 184 yards. Despite it being his first game on the team, he was composed all day long and showed no signs of it being his debut. 

“I just tried my best to make sure everyone knew what to do, and I took it one play at a time,” Hunter said. 

With a new quarterback in the room, it would probably take some time for his receivers to adjust, but Jonah thought it was a smooth transition in his day with 112 yards worth of receptions.

“It did take some time to adjust, but it was really fun to play with both Hunter and Maguire as the quarterbacks,” he said.

The Ranger defense came back and produced stop after stop in the second half. The Christian offense couldn’t get anything going, and Tyler and George led the charge.

“In the second half, our team really stepped up and made some big plays,” George said.

Thanks to another stop, the Ranger offense had another chance to keep the momentum going in the fourth quarter. Hunter looked deep to Jonah and the ball was deflected by the GRC  cornerback, but Jonah came down with it thanks to some quick reactions for a 32-yard catch. Conner then took the sweep from Hunter for a 6-yard rushing touchdown, and that made it 21 unanswered points for FHC. Both sides of the ball just needed to keep the momentum going to close out the game.

For the final ten minutes, the Rangers didn’t get much done on offense, but they didn’t need to. With 1:20 to go, the Eagles found themselves buried deep in their own territory for 4th and long. Dykema tossed the ball up to a pack of Rangers, and George came up with it and clinched the game.

“[The interception] felt great just knowing that I could help the team clinch the game,” George said.

With the 21-13 win over Grand Rapids Christian, the Rangers start off the 2020 campaign with a win. Not only is this a great start to the season, but it’s also a win against a GRC program that the Rangers haven’t beaten since 1995. 

“It was great to beat a school like GRC for the first time since I can honestly remember,” Jonah said.

Now that week one is over, the Rangers focus their efforts on crosstown rival Forest Hills Northern. The Huskies fell to Byron Center 38-7 on Friday, and the Rangers defeated the Huskies 34-7 last year. With construction ongoing at FHC, the game will be hosted at Northview High School at 7:00 PM (as of now, time could change due to EEE).