It was a gorgeous evening, wisps of clouds backlighting the setting sun. Thornapple Kelloggs’ stands had a small home student section clothed in neon, overshadowed by Eastern’s supporters seated on the visitor’s side, adorned in hippie attire. A forty-minute drive through numerous cornfields did nothing to dampen school spirit. Tommy Sypien (’22), a player on the varsity football team, mentioned that “a big student section is always a positive thing.” Numerous students showed up to support Eastern’s football team last Friday. As Eastern ran onto the field, they had a hunger: a hunger to win.
Forest Hills Eastern walked away from that field with a 41-20 victory against Thornapple Kellogg.
At the first kickoff, Thornapple Kellog had possession of the ball. They managed to evade Eastern’s defense for a total of 2:40 minutes, then lost the ball after running out of downs. Eastern’s offense took over. The Hawks struggled with the Trojans for 5:11 minutes before Bryson Kuzdzal (’23) ran the ball into the endzone, marking the first touchdown of the game. 6-0. Forest Hills Eastern scored the only touchdown in the first quarter.
Moving onto the second quarter, Thornapple Kellog had possession of the ball for a short 1:32 minutes before handing it back to Eastern. Unfortunately, the Hawks fumbled the ball barely 16 seconds after receiving it. Once Thornapple Kellogg had the ball for the second time in the quarter, they quickly made a passing touchdown. 6-6. Eastern, with possession from the kickoff, completed another touchdown in 1:33 minutes.
Kuzdzal struck for the second time, completing a 53-yard rush into the endzone, scoring the second touchdown for Eastern and third in this game. Eastern’s student section erupted, chanting and cheering his name as he ran for safety. 12-6.
Soon after Thornapple Kellogg gained possession, Eastern intercepted. Then, Collin Frizsma (’23) ran 4 yards to make a touchdown, followed by a 2-point rush by quarterback Brayden Stratbucker (’22). 20-6. The Trojans then spent time slowly creeping towards their endzone, only to lose the ball yet again. Eastern had possession until half-time, though they didn’t score any additional points that half.
After the half-time break, Eastern picked up just as strong as before, their will to win renewed. They showed their spirit through an astonishing 57-yard pass from Stratbucker to Kuzdzal. When the throw was announced as complete, everyone went wild – rejoicing as Eastern pulled further ahead of the Trojans.
The Hawks followed up the touchdown with a successful extra point by Clune VanAndel (’23), bringing the overall score to 27-6. Kuzdzal made another touchdown (11-yard run) after Eastern intercepted Thornapple Kellogg’s pass and VanAndel completed another successful kick. 34-6.
Picking up in the fourth quarter, Thornapple Kellogg regained possession of the ball. They promptly scored another touchdown and an additional two points with a two-point conversion. 27-14. Eastern had almost an entire quarter left to secure their win. Ashton Thompson (’22) and Stratbucker wasted no time. Stratbucker threw a 21-yard pass to Thompson, scoring another 6 points for Eastern. VanAndel, again, completed his kick for the extra point. 41-14.
Thornapple Kellogg made one more touchdown with a two-point conversion before the clock ran out. This brought the final score to 41-20 and officially declared Eastern as the champion of the night.
While talking about the upcoming game beforehand, Kyle Butka (’22) shared that he was “optimistic about winning the game.” Fortunately, he was right in his optimism. Many of the team’s fans were hoping for a win after the previous game’s loss. “When you have as much support as our school’s student body has shown, there is an innate desire to do well,” said Coach Schwander, the head coach of varsity football at Forest Hills Eastern.
Before last Friday’s game, Schwander talked with me about the importance of senior leadership and how the team “leans on those guys for strength.” He said that “where our team ends up at the end of the season will be directly related to their ability to lead. We’re confident they’re going to get things figured out for our program.” The seniors clearly lead the team to victory today and will aim to continue in upcoming games.