MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – In past years the result may have been different and the Reeths-Puffer faithful would have gone home disappointed.
But the Rockets showed on Friday that they can overcome adversity and win a hard-fought game against a tough opponent, even under intense pressure.
Reeths-Puffer had an eight-point lead late in the contest but gave up the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion with 10 seconds left, both courtesy of Grand Rapids Union quarterback Tommy Stevens.
The game went into overtime and the Rockets scored on their second play on a 10-yard pass from Brady Ross to Tayte Vanderleest. But Reeths-Puffer botched the extra point, giving the Red Hawks a solid chance for the victory.
Union managed to move the ball all the way down to the one-yard line on fourth down, but was ticketed with a penalty that pushed the fourth-and-goal situation back to the six-yard line.
Stevens attempted to sling a touchdown pass while rolling to his right, but he threw two feet above his receiver’s arms and the Rockets held on to beat GR Union 35-29 in a Friday night thriller.
The Rockets, now 3-1 on the season and 1-1 in O-K Green conference play, will face Wyoming next Friday.
“I thought we did a great job in the second half of executing the run,” said Reeths-Puffer coach Cody Kater. “We also moved the chains well during the second half, and it was nice that we were able to win and build off the great things we did tonight.
“We had missed assignments, but it’s easy to coach these guys when you win. I am just glad we were able to deal with adversity, especially being a first-time head coach.”
Grand Rapids Union opened the scoring on its first possession, going 79 yards on 16 plays that ended with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Stevens to Jersey Brown.
The Rockets responded quickly with a 21-yard touchdown run from Brody Johnson with 2:44 left in the first quarter to tie the contest 7-7.
Reeths-Puffer took its first lead of the night on the first play of the second quarter, scoring on a 22-yard run up the middle by QB Brady Ross.
The Rockets missed the extra point, leaving Reeths-Puffer a 13-7 lead with 11:51 left in the second quarter.
The Red Hawks took the lead back two drives later with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Stevens to Brown with 5:35 left in the second quarter.
Grand Rapids Union led 14-13 at halftime.
The Rockets scored on their first drive of the second half on a two-yard touchdown run by Ross.
Ross also ran in the two-point conversion to give Reeths-Puffer a 21-14 lead.
The Red Hawks did not go away, scoring on their next possession with a four-yard touchdown run from Stevens to tie the game 21-21 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
Reeths-Puffer continued to move the ball successfully on its next drive, going 83 yards on nine plays that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown run by Johnson.
Ross added another two-point conversion on a run to increase the Rocket advantage to 29-21 with 17 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Grand Rapids Union drove the ball on its next possession all the way to the R-P 14-yard line before turning it over on downs.
The Rockets tried to melt the clock down but turned the ball over on downs at the Union 26-yard line with 2:40 left in the game.
The Red Hawks then moved the ball 74 yards on 11 plays and scored on a one-yard run by Stevens with 10 seconds left.
Stevens forced overtime by scoring on the two-point conversion.
The Rockets scored on their second play of overtime on a 10-yard connection from Ross to Vanderleest, then managed to keep the Red Hawks out of the end zone on their last possession.
Ross led the Rockets offensively, going 10-for-14 through the air for 87 yards and one touchdown and one interception. He also ran the ball for 62 yards on 11 carries and two scores.
“We came together toward the end,” Ross said about the win. “Coach told us it was going to be a dog fight from the start. It was huge for us, stepping it up toward the end.”
Johnson rushed for 162 yards on 14 carries while scoring two touchdowns.
Vanderleest caught four passes for 53 yards and one touchdown.