In Play with Tom Markowski

Rockford's slams the door on Saline and Haddad's late TD helps the Rams prevail, 14-0

Football   | Tom Markowski

State Champs! Sports Network

Ann Arbor – Eli Haddad made quite an impression in his varsity debut on Thursday, one he nor Rockford coach Ralph Munger will soon forget.

Haddad had a 59-yard touchdown reception and his interception with 7:12 left helped preserve Rockford’s 14-0 victory over Saline in the season opener, and the opening game of the Battle of the Big House at Michigan Stadium.

Rockford’s offense sputtered all game but the Rams made plays, on both sides of the ball, when they counted most.   

Saline had two interceptions, received a fumble and had a blocked punt but the Hornets couldn’t capitalize. The Hornets ran 70 to 47 for Rockford and held Rockford’s heralded quarterback Jason Whittaker to 80 yards passing but had nothing to show for it.

Rockford led 7-0 at halftime on Ian Rodriguez’s 24-yard touchdown run and had just one first down in the second half when it took over on its 7-yard line with 10 minutes to play.

Two rushing first downs moved the ball to the 41 and that’s when Munger went for the home run. Whittaker nearly overthrew a wide-open Haddad as the 5-9 sophomore stretched out his right hand to make a one-handed catch and he ran untouched into the end zone to give the Rams a 14-0 lead with 8:39 left.

Four plays later Saline had a first down at its 47 when Haddad stepped in front of the intended receiver to make an interception.

“It was overthrown,” Haddad said of Whittaker’s pass. “I just put it into the second gear. I just kept going to the post.

“It was hard for us on offense, the first game and all.

“On the interception we had practiced for that rout. They used that fake screen and we just read it right.”

Saline took possession first and ran 14 plays before settling for a 39-yard field goal that went wide left.

Ethan Collick blocked a punt on Rockford’s first possession giving the Hornets a first down at the Rockford 23. The Rams’ defense stuffed Saline as Brendan Wymer sacked Cole Daniels, a senior making his first start, for an 11-yard loss. A fourth down pass went incomplete to end a second fruitless opportunity.

An Alex Morrison interception gave Saline possession on the Rockford 36 on the first play of the second half but, again, Rockford’s defense rose to the challenge and did not allow a first down.

“We just couldn’t finish,” Saline coach Joe Palka said. “When we needed to run the ball we couldn’t. It put too much pressure on our passing game. We had some drop passes in critical situations, too, ones that would have given us a first down.”

Daniels was 20-of-39 passing for 154 yards but Rockford held the Hornets to 66 yards rushing.

Whittaker, a 6-5 senior who committed to Northwestern, was 3-of-9 for 80 yards and those two interceptions. On one interception Whittaker’s pass bounced off the receiver’s hands into the hands of Connor Terech.      

Whittaker did rushed for 50 yards on six carries. Rodriguez had 44 yards on six carries.

“We believe to achieve,” Munger said. “We believe to achieve.

“Our offense did struggle. We are extremely inexperience. We basically have a whole new line back except for one guy (Cody Carone). That’s high school football. You replace with what you have.

“I am pleased with the defense. That shows the preparation the staff put in. In Jason’s case it was good to get a game under his belt. He was chomping on a bit to play.”