RAPID RIVER - Coming into this game, most people expected it would be a shootout until the very end.
Few games live up to the hype they have cast upon them before the opening snap, but this one exceeded expectations. The Rapid River Rockets were able to produce just a little more than the Superior Central Cougars, coming away with the 44-34 victory and advancing to play Cedarville next week in the regional semifinals.
"It was a big win for us," said Rockets coach Steve Ostrenga. "They persevered, and stepped up all game long. I've gotta give Superior Central a lot of credit."
Paul Gerard photo
Rapid River quarterback?Jake Pearson looks to take off running Friday night against Superior Central during their Eight-Player regional playoff game at Rapid River.
The game began with both teams swapping blows back and forth. the Rockets went for it on fourth down, but didn't reach the first down marker. The Cougars took the ball at the Rockets' 11-yard line, and Tyler Kienitz ran it on for a touchdown on the very first play of the drive to put up the first points.
On the following drive, the Rockets converted a six play, 53-yard drive that ended with a Lucas Bero rushing touchdown. They were able to get the two-point conversion to take the 8-6 lead, as the Cougars missed the extra point attempt on their opening score.
Superior Central quarterback Trevor Maki went 0-3 on the ensuing drive, and the Cougars were forced to punt. The Rockets capitalized, as Jake Pearson connected with Robert Metter on back to back passes for 16 yards and 27 yards respectively. That set up a 3-yard touchdown burst by Pearson, and after the two point conversion it was 16-6.
Score by quarter -
Rapid River 8 14 16 6 - 44
Superior Central 6 8 6 14 - 34
Superior Central, (Gauthier, 10-64); (T. Maki, 9-96).
Rapid River, (Pearson, 43-212); (Dominique, 3-25); (Bero, 13-41); (Orth, 4-41).
Rapid River, (Pearson, 6-8-0-125).
Superior Central, (8-25-2-188).
Pearson and Metter hooked up on their next drive as well, as Metter went up and grabbed the ball in the end zone on a beautiful catch that made it 22-6. The Rockets appeared to be running away with the game, but that would be short lived.
Superior Central got the ball with 24 seconds left in the half, which was more than enough time for Maki. He hit Bryce Richard on a 38-yard strike, and then he found an open Dan Steward for a 30-yard touchdown pass to bring them within one possession (22-14) heading into halftime.
Neither team could get much going on either of their opening drives in the second half. But on their next drive, Pearson found the end zone for a three-yard touchdown run to put them up 30-14 and pad the Rockets lead a little more.
The Cougars, however, weren't going to let the Rapid River crowd sit comfortably. On the very first play of the drive, Maki wasted very little time as he opened up for a 75-yard touchdown run to make it 30-20.
Pearson willed his team into the end zone again, capping off a 12 play drive that ended with a Pearson touchdown to quiet the Cougars crowd again and put the Rockets up 38-20.
But Superior Central didn't come this far to just hang their heads when a little adversity came their way. The Cougars scored on back-to-back drives while shutting down the Rockets' offense, and after a 39-yard touchdown pass to Richard, all of a sudden it was a 38-34 game.
There was 5:51 remaining in the game; plenty of time for it to go either way.
The Rockets had the ball. On the first play of the drive, Eli Orth took a hard hit and emergency crews had to assist him off of the field. The atmosphere changed dramatically, as the roaring of the crowd had now dimmed to complete silence. After they got Orth to the ambulance, the game continued, and what came next surprised everybody. After eating up most of the clock as they marched the ball 50 yards down field, Rapid River was faced with a 4th-and-9 situation with about 30 seconds remaining.
On a trick play, Pearson hit Chris Morgan for a 24 yard touchdown pass. As Morgan crossed the goal line he fumbled the ball, but it was recovered by teammate Zach Dominique for the touchdown, and the place was electric once again.
"We knew a first down ended the game, and we had that look," said Rockets assistant coach Paul Brunngraeber. "We worked on that play all week in practice, and had confidence in Chris that he'd catch it, and he did."
Although they got the win, it was somewhat bittersweet with the injury to Orth.
"Our hearts go out to Eli," said Ostrenga. "We love to win, but we're down because of what happened. I hope he keeps his head up."