Varsity football perseveres through its second biggest challenge of the season


After scoring 14 unanswered points with 5:25 minutes left in the third quarter, Grand Rapids Christian had Eagles Stadium rocking.

“In a moment like that, we had to do what coach Rogers preaches in tough moments: ‘Resort to your highest level of training,”’ senior Jack McNamara, who had one sack, said. “That’s what we repeatedly did that night; we faced some tough situations but, in the end, battled through them.”

FHC had given up only 13 total points against conference opponents before Friday’s clash with the Eagles. So, the Rangers’ defense was in unfamiliar territory after GRC’s Ja’martae Hogan ran for a 62-yard touchdown to bring the Eagles within two points of the Rangers. After a successful two-point conversion by GRC, FHC held onto a slight 21-20 lead with around five minutes left in the third quarter. 

Even though GRC had momentum on its side, FHC responded with a remarkable drive of its own. 

Right off the bat, on the first play of the drive, senior Hunter Robinson received the snap in shotgun formation and turned his hips to the right side of the field towards senior slot receiver Jacob Bonnett. Jacob patiently waited for the ball to come to him on a bubble-screen play, allowing for his teammates to get in front of him and clear a path. Once he caught the ball, he turned upfield and broke a tackle. Jacob somehow managed to stay up on his feet by hurdling over the same linebacker that he got away from a few seconds earlier. That quick 18-yard screen gave FHC a much-needed boost of morale. 

Jacob Bonnett hurdles over a Grand Rapids Christian defender.

Nine plays later, Hunter would power his way into the endzone for a one-yard Ranger touchdown. Then, with 48 seconds left in the third quarter, senior Luke Gustafson booted in the extra point to give the Rangers a 28-20 advantage over the Eagles. 

“I thought we responded excellently,” head coach Tim Rogers said. “When we needed the offense, they scored, they moved the ball, they did everything we needed them to do.”

Down the stretch of the game, FHC was battered down by controversial calls and costly mistakes. Senior Tyler Weaver, who returned an interception for a touchdown earlier in the game, tried to rally the defense together to get a stop; however, GRC kept marching down the field. At the 3:31 minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Eagles’ offense faced a critical third down and seven on FHC’s own 40-yard line.

“Before that big third down, the crowd noise got to be really loud,” senior Conner Milton said. “At the time, it seemed as if that play would decide the rest of the game.”

GRC’s quarterback Alex Wickstrom sat back in a shotgun single-back formation, awaiting the snap from his center. In third-down, climactic situations like that one, it’s always nice to have a reliable target to fall back on. For Wickstrom, that reliable target on Friday night was 6’6” 220-pound junior Tyler Porte. Porte took advantage of his mature frame as he turned the corner on a lazy out route, and he snagged a high throw from Wickstrom for a demoralizing first down. 

“We all just tried to regroup and not let it bother us because the coaches always tell us ‘one snap and clear,’ meaning once the play is over, it’s over,” senior Quentin Rudolph explained.

No matter how hard Quentin and FHC tried to contain Ja’martae Hogan and the GRC run game, the Eagles still were able to wear down FHC’s defense with a heavy dose of running in the later stages of the fourth quarter. That period of time between the 3:31 mark and near the end of regulation was dominated by the Eagles, as they held onto the ball and controlled the clock. In addition to managing the clock well, the Eagles also had a few calls go in their favor, including a penalty against the Rangers for having 12 men on the field. 

“We all knew we could only control what we did, so we didn’t worry about the refs,” senior Ben Scholler said. “We just worried about what we had to do to win.”

The longer GRC’s offense stayed on the field, the more tired the Rangers’ defense got. That methodical, 20-play drive was capped off with a Ja’martae Hogan touchdown from two yards out—a touchdown that would put the Eagles within striking range of the Rangers. All that was left for GRC to do was convert the two-point conversion to tie the ballgame up at 28 apiece. 

Lined up in wildcat formation, Ja’martae Hogan collected the snap and rounded the corner towards the pylon. His superhuman effort was enough to get him past two FHC defenders and into the endzone. 

A contest that started out lopsided morphed into a late-game thriller between two OK-White heavyweights; FHC entered overtime with a renewed sense of focus and respect for an extremely dangerous GRC team.

“They [the Eagles] won three straight games going into this matchup, so we knew this wouldn’t be an easy game for us,” coach Rogers said. “I think our guys found out the hard way that Grand Rapids Christian isn’t like some of the other OK-White teams we’ve played so far this season; they have every chance to win the league as we do.”

According to the MHSAA rulebook, “each team begins its offensive series 1st-and-Goal from the 10- yard line as opposed to 1st–and-10 at the 25. The only way a team can pick up a first down is on a roughing foul – roughing the passer, the holder, the center, or the kicker.” To begin sudden-death overtime, FHC was awarded the ball.

Since he won the starting quarterback position last season, Hunter has been a staple in the run game because of his ability to stay on his feet. With that in mind, it was no surprise that offensive coordinator Mike Ebbert opted to call a quarterback run for Hunter on the first play of overtime. Hunter received the snap and followed his trusty left guard, senior Carter Kelly, through the “C” gap. The offensive line’s efforts paid off, as Hunter made it to the one-yard line before being tackled. On the next play, Hunter finished the job by moving the pile into the endzone for a Ranger touchdown. A Luke Gustafson extra point then gave FHC a 35-28 lead over GRC.

Hunter Robinson powers into the endzone to put the Rangers up 34-28.

“Whenever we need points in the red zone, our offensive line is confident in Hunter’s ability to punch the ball in for a touchdown,” senior Carter Kelly said. “He’s just too good in that area of the field.”

Heading into GRC’s overtime offensive possession, all of the pressure was on the Eagles to keep the game alive. Junior Owen Meyer put even more pressure on Alex Wickstrom and the Eagles’ offense on the second play of the drive. The 250-pound nose tackle bull-rushed GRC’s center on his way to sacking Alex Wickstrom for an eight-yard loss, forcing a third down and 13. 

“That sack gave us a lot of momentum to finish out the other two downs in overtime to help us seal the win,” Owen said.

The Rangers’ defense, which was described at the start of the season as “one of the more talented groups to play at FHC, had to make two more stops to clinch an overtime victory. On the ensuing play, lockdown corner Ben Scholler shadowed wideout Armaan Irving on a fade route to the back corner of the endzone. Ben closed in on the ball and deflected the pass out of bounds to bring up a game-deciding fourth down and 13. All eyes were on FHC’s secondary to see if it could make one more big stop.

Ben Scholler bats the ball down.

As the GRC center snapped the ball to Alex Wickstrom, it is evident that he was looking to hit one of his big targets over the top of smaller FHC defenders—either CJ Jones or Amir Nixon. Without much time to find an open target, Wickstrom aired it out in the direction of Amir Nixon. While the ball traveled towards the back of the endzone, sophomore Tyler Hudkins collapsed down onto Nixon and stretched his arms out as far as they could reach for a deflection. Tyler made enough contact with the ball to bat it down to the ground, securing a victory for FHC.

Tyler Hudkins deflects the last pass of the game to secure an FHC victory.

“We made some mistakes on defense, but we finished the game doing a nice job,” coach Rogers said. “

Looking ahead to next week, FHC will travel eight miles up the road to face its cross-town rival, Forest Hills Northern. Just last week, the Huskies gave an undefeated Byron Center squad a tough game, barely losing 14-0. Coach Rogers doesn’t want his team to sputter as it did against GRC, so he intends to tighten up some undisciplined lapses.

“We didn’t play our best football game; we learned a lot about ourselves today,” Rogers said. “We’ll get those things fixed just like we did after Grand Blanc. We were a little undisciplined, including me, with the penalty on the sideline, and we’ll know better going forward.”