Division 9 (8-Player) State Final: Rockets no match for Peck’s air attack

GREENVILLE, Mich. – Rapid River head coach Steve Ostrenga knew his team was going to have to stop a Peck rushing attack that netted over 500 yards the week before.

The Rockets defense contained Peck’s ground game but had no answer for their aerial assault as the Pirates beat Rapid River 67-32, winning the 2013 Division 9 (Eight-Player) state championship game Friday night at Legacy Field.

“We were worried about their speed on the outside, their speed on the run,” Ostrenga said. “They did a nice job, they gave their quarterback just enough time to get the ball released. We took the run away but we certainly didn’t take the pass away.”

Peck’s quarterback Tristen Haener was 12-for-16 for 379 yards and seven touchdowns, four of which were hauled in by junior tight-end Kyle Abrego.

“Number 25 (Abrego), and number 32 (Tyler Beurmann) are nice big receivers,” Ostrenga said. “I thought we had good coverage, we just didn’t turn our heads around quick enough and the result was big plays.”

Two of those big plays came during a 13 second, 14-point burst, that pushed the Pirates lead to 41-8. Abrego scored on a 52-yard touchdown catch with 9:15 left in the third quarter. Peck recovered the onside kick and on the next play Haener again found Abrego for a 34-yard touchdown.

“He’s been like that all year long,” said Peck head coach Rob McDaniel. “Nobody’s been able to match-up with him all year as far as d-back wise.

“If we can go anywhere near Kyle Abrego’s head or hands he’s going to catch the ball.”

Peck, who has had five different players go over 100 yards rushing on the season, struggled to establish their running game. McDaniel noted the height advantage his receivers had over Rapid River’s secondary as a key to the throwing attack.

“Coaching-wise they shut down the run,” he said. “Our bread and butter is the run, we’ve got over 4,000 yards rushing and he shut us down and we had to go to the pass, fortunately we can do both.”

Rapid River appeared to be in position to take an early lead after forcing a turnover-on-downs during a goalline stand on the Pirates first possession of the game..

The Rockets took over on the eight-yard line, and on the first play from scrimmage senior quarterback Jake Pearson broke off a 40 yard run and was heading into Peck territory before a Pirate defender punched the ball out of his hands. Peck jumped on the fumble and scored five plays later.

“We needed to play a perfect game and we told them before the game you can’t have turnovers, you can’t have penalties,” Ostrenga said. “Nice run in our first play from scrimmage but we fumbled the ball, then we had some penalties early and they hit some big plays and we had to stop the big plays.”

The Pirates went up 21-0 before Pearson put the Rockets on the board with a five-yard touchdown run at the 3:51 mark of the second quarter.

The Rockets were unable to recover the onside kick and Peck scored again before the half to take a 28-8 lead heading into the break.

Pearson found the endzone late in the third quarter on a 39-yard run, also completing the two-point conversion to cut the Peck lead to 41-16. Rapid River then missed another onside kick opportunity and the Pirates scored two plays later on a 65-yard bomb from Haener to Abrego.

“We probably should have went to some of our other formations earlier in the game,” Ostrenga said. “We made some mistakes on some things we haven’t done in awhile. The effort was there. I’m very proud of this team, very proud of the Rapid River community, very proud of our parents, our coaches; it’s been a great run.”

Pearson finished with 180 yards rushing and three touchdowns to lead the Rockets. He also threw a 26-yard touchdown to senior center Hayden Hardwick with 3:21 left in the fourth quarter. Both Pearson and Hardwick were also starters on Rapid River’s 2011 state-runner up team.

Ostrenga had high praise for both Pearson and Hardwick, who have been part of a Rapid River team that has gone 33-6 over the past three seasons.

“Jake Pearson’s been a phenomenal athlete; Hayden Hardwick as well, those two have been together since sophomores, they played on our first state run,” he said. “He’s (Jake) a true ambassador for our school, for eight-man football. We were 1-8 four years ago. We were 1-8 two years in a row. To have a Jake Pearson and this team that’s stayed together has been phenomenal. Jake works hard. He works hard in the offseason, he’s coachable, he does everything you ask him to do and he’s everything you see.”