Rockets’ run as 8-man team an incredible achievement

RAPID RIVER – The Rockets wrapped up their 2013 football season on Friday, finishing 12-1 and making their third straight playoff appearance.

Rapid River’s bid for a state title fell short as they lost to Peck 67-32 in the Division 9 Eight-Player state championship game in Greenville.

Since joining the eight-man ranks in 2011 Rapid River has compiled a 33-6 record, while qualifying for the playoffs in all three seasons. The Rockets finished 8-0 in the regular season for the first time in school history and won the Bridge Alliance Conference.

Head coach Steve Ostrenga said his team’s work ethic has laid the groundwork for a successful program.

“We’ve used a quote, ‘if you work hard good things may happen but if you don’t work hard it probably won’t happen,'” said Ostrenga. “This group of guys bought into that. From junior high into high school they were very coachable. They worked very hard, their parents were very supportive. Ultimately it’s the teaching of the game and they certainly were open to being taught and open to working hard.”

The Rockets success on the field didn’t go unnoticed by the community. Swarms of Rapid River supporters made the seven-hour trek to Greenville, filling the stands with purple and gold.

“Hundreds of people from Rapid came down and they were really loud and supportive and we could hear when we got to the end of the game they were saying we’re proud of you,” Ostrenga said. “They were really classy and that was nice.”

Rapid River seniors Jake Pearson, Hayden Hardwick, Jared Schwartz, Pat Pryal and Mike Boyer played their final game in a Rocket uniform.

“It’s hard to replace these five seniors, they were a special group. Even though you only had five of them they were very special,” Ostrenga said. “They led by example, lead by voice and we appepricate that. We certainly rode their success.”

Pearson and Hardwick were both starters on the Rockets 2011 state runner-up team and both were honored for their success on the field this season. Pearson was named the Small School Offensive Player of the Year by the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters. The 6-foot-3 quarterback finished the regular season with 1,667 rushing yards and 762 yards passing. He rushed for 29 touchdowns and threw for nine more.

Hardwick, who anchored the Rockets offensive line at the center position, was also named to the All U.P. Football Team.

“Being in eight-man everyone’s got to know a lot of roles,” Ostrenga said. “Hayden Hardwick knew how to play fullback, he knew how to play defensive end, he knew how to play linebacker and he could play any of the offensive line positions.”

Ostrenga had high praise for his coaching staff, team and the Rapid River community for their work during the season. He also noted the help they’ve gotten from athletic director Rick Pepin and from volunteers on the coaching staff.

“The parents, the whole U.P., the following we got from Jack Hall to the Daily Press to Rapid River parents, community, school, coaches it’s just wonderful,” he said.