Rapid River falls to Brimley in opener
RAPID RIVER — The defending eight-player Division 2 state champions had a rough start to their season here Thursday night as Rapid River fell to the Brimley Bays 24-12 in a Great Lakes Conference East Division contest.
The Bays took an early lead in the first quarter thanks to the efforts of Mason Harris, who recovered a fumble with just over four minutes left in the quarter and returned it over 50 yards for the first touchdown of the game.
“He’s a really athletic kid, and better yet, he’s a really nice kid,” Bays’ coach Lester Livermore said. “He plays hard, and he had a great game facilitated by our offensive line. Our big boys carried a big load today, and they did it for four quarters — you don’t always get that out of 330-pound guys.”
The Bays picked up an onside kick immediately after to begin another scoring drive. Brimley’s John Tharpe pounded it in less than a minute later from four yards out for a lead 12-0 after a failed two-point conversion.
Brimley stalled any offensive momentum for the Rockets when Zach Indish picked off a pass with just 23 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Rapid River answered back shortly after, forcing a fumble and recovering it nine seconds into the second quarter.
“We obviously have to find the answer to pressure because we got pretty one-dimensional when they started bringing lots and lots of blitz,” Livermore said. “Luckily, we were physical enough to handle it, but that’s not something you want to get yourself into every week.”
The Rockets couldn’t get rolling until almost halfway into the second quarter. Rapid River’s Bryce Lundquist got the Rockets on the board on a quarterback sneak with just under seven minutes left before the half to reduce their deficit to 12-6.
Any momentum Rapid River gained was stifled by the Bays’ defense as Brimley picked off Lundquist two more times before the half concluded.
Both teams threatened the end zone but couldn’t make anything happen in the third quarter. The Rockets prevented the Bays from scoring at the end of the third as Mason Kudlick picked off a pass in the end zone to stall their drive.
“We played tough defensively,” Rockets’ coach Steve Ostrenga said. “We knew, seeing those guys come back, that number four (Mason Harris) was a tough running back and how fast he was. We need to clean up some things offensively, and we’ve got to move the ball. That’s where we struggled.”
Brimley extended its lead in the fourth quarter on a Dayton Parrish touchdown pass to go ahead 18-6 with 8:11 remaining in the game. The Bays added another score on a 92-yard TD run by Mason with just 1:19 left in the game to seal it.
“I was pretty happy with the way we played,” Livermore said. “I wasn’t sure exactly what we had until we actually got to play somebody in a real game, and I was really proud of the guys.”
A ray of hope appeared for the Rockets on the subsequent kickoff. Azariah Hernandez fielded the kick and made an impressive 70-yard-plus return to put Rapid River right in front of the end zone. Lundquist zipped a pass to Dayton Dittrich with a minute remaining to reduce the deficit to 24-12.
“I like the fact that our guys didn’t quit,” Ostrenga said. “Dayton Dittrich did a great job at his first time on center, I’m proud of him. We’ve got some young guys, but we just have to mature and keep working.”
Kudlick led the Rockets with 79 receiving yards on five receptions and 61 yards rushing on 13 attempts. Hernandez accumulated 33 yards on 10 carries. Lundquist finished 5-for-15 for 89 yards, one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown and four interceptions.
Harris led the Bays with 144 yards rushing on nine attempts and two touchdowns, and Tharpe followed with 79 yards on 23 carries and one TD. Dayton Parrish finished 1-for-9 with a touchdown and an interception.
Rapid River hosts North Central next Friday while Brimley visits Ontonagon Sept. 7.