Following a crushing loss in the final minutes against Byron Center last week, the JV Football team faced one of its most detested rivals in East Grand Rapids. Second-half struggles in the prior week made it difficult for FHC to find a rhythm; however, the exact opposite occurred this time around. A tremendous effort from sophomore quarterback Levi Mckenzie and the Ranger offense propelled FHC to overcome a late-game deficit and escape with a narrow home victory.
Forest Hills Central’s defense has been one of the few constants amongst the team so far this season, and Thursday night was no different. Although the Ranger offense struggled to get on the scoreboard early in the game, the defense was as stout as it had been all year. A back-and-forth battle to start the game saw the game remain scoreless for nearly the entire first quarter. Finally, East Grand Rapids found the endzone on a 40-yard run play that found paydirt, giving them a 7-0 lead nearing the end of the first quarter.
Fortunately, the FHC offense responded quickly. Freshman JT Hartman scampered into the end zone from 15 yards out. A failed two-point conversion kept the Rangers short of the lead at 7-6, but that was just the first of a few second quarter fireworks from FHC. Following a defensive stand, the Rangers took possession with around four minutes remaining before halftime. Not wavering under the pressure, Levi broke off a run for 45 yards and a much-needed touchdown. This gave FHC tremendous confidence heading into halftime.
Coming out of the locker room, the tone was clearly different than it had been just one short week before. After giving up a late score and losing to Byron Center, FHC was set on finishing the game just as it had started. Head coach Ty Hallock touched after the game last week on the fact that the coaching staff was going to be very honest with the players in order to learn from their mistakes.
“We challenged the guys this week to be faster and more physical. We also pushed them not to make mental mistakes,” Coach Hallock stated ensuing this weeks’ game. “Although we were definitely not perfect, they did answer the challenge.”
Hallock and his squad fought excruciatingly hard in the third quarter, even following an EGR touchdown to regain the lead. Nonetheless, the Rangers offense answered the call once more. After a mentally and physically demoralizing drive for its opponent that lasted close to nine minutes, Levi McKenzie punched the ball into the endzone from the 1-yard line. The final two touchdowns of the game were scored by Levi, providing a huge boost to the talented quarterback and the offensive unit as a whole.
“With playing a rival and having so much energy, we knew this was going to be a tough game,” stated Levi after securing the win for his team on the offensive end. “We just knew we had to fight until the last down, and that’s what we did.”
These two second-half touchdowns from Levi not only gave FHC the lead twice, but it produced a new wave of confidence for the defense as well.
As it does commonly, the Ranger defense shut down the Pioneers for the remainder of the outing. A statement 18-13 victory over EGR was just what FHC needed: a re-discovery of the team identity in order to fuel the squad for its final stretch of the season. Although the coaching staff did an incredible job of preparing the team for this game, the players stepped up to the challenge in a game loaded with pressure and tension.
“In this shortened season, we really have to focus on our alignments and assignments and continue to improve week by week,” Hallock said. “I think the guys continue to be committed to getting better, and that is going to help us here in these last few weeks.”
Following a heartbreaking defeat, the team as a whole refused to let it deter them and instead used it as an impulse. This considerable win moves JV Football to 3-1 on the season. Next week, they will host the gritty Northview Wildcats in efforts to keep the winning streak alive.