Fresh faces: Young Zebras drop opener to Whitko
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Rochester football fans are going to have to trust the process. The process started Friday.
Alex Deming ran for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the Zebras lost to Whitko 28-7 in their season opener, which was delayed by two weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak at school.
Cade Berg ran for two touchdowns for Whitko, including a 29-yarder on the last play of the third quarter. Junior quarterback Ethan Schuh ran for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass in the first quarter as Whitko scored on their first two possessions.
Whitko improved to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the Three Rivers Conference. RHS fell to 0-1, 0-1.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids who have never played varsity before,” RHS coach Sean Kelly said. “So those first two quarters, it took them awhile to get them acclimated at the speed of the varsity game. We have a lot of guys learning, and they’ve never been in a varsity game. In the second half, I thought we brought the speed of the game up.”
Schuh threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Kyles on a deep seam route with 2:53 left in the first quarter to make it 14-0. He had another 36-yard completion to Drake Lewis on a hitch-and-go route over the top of the RHS defense in the second quarter to set up Berg’s two-yard scoring run two plays later.
The Zebra defense had two takeaways in the second quarter, including an Andrew Bauch interception with 11:50 left in the first half at the Whitko 16. A personal foul penalty on Whitko tacked on to the end of the play gave RHS a first-and-goal at the Whitko 8.
“We weren’t able to put any points on the board,” Kelly said. “That’s very disappointing, but maybe it would have been a little bit different. Even as far as getting points on the board in the first half and come out in the second half, if you score, you’re right back in it.”
But two short runs and an incomplete pass followed. The drive ended with Kaleb Shaffer missing a 23-yard field goal attempt.
Deming is a freshman fullback, and Colton Ferverda, the player with whom he shared a backfield at tailback for much of the second half, is also a freshman. Gavin McKee, the other tailback, is a sophomore. They were running behind an offensive line that included a freshman center in Brady Beck and a sophomore left tackle in Hunter Shriver.
“As you saw in the backfield, we had two freshmen running full and tail in the backfield,” Kelly said. “They’re inexperienced, but they’re going to get better. We’re going to get better upfront.”
RHS had two first downs in the first half and nine first downs in the second half.
Their scoring drive started after taking over at the Whitko 43 with 7:20 left. Aaron Swango had a 24-yard run to get them to the Whitko 19. Ferverda’s 9-yard run two plays later gave them a first-and-goal, and Deming finished off the drive from the 2 with 4:58 left.
The longest pass play was a 27-yarder from Reece Renie to Bauch on what turned out to be RHS’ final drive. That came one play after a 17-yard pass from Renie to Swango.
“I was not disappointed at all with what we saw in the second half,” Kelly said. “Our goal was to come out and play the kind of football that we knew we could. We were kind of disappointed with how we played in the first (half), but like I said, I chalk some of that up to a lot of new guys playing who have never been in a varsity football game. It’s not a JV game anymore. It’s not an eighth-grade game. Some of these guys were playing in eighth-grade games last year.”
RHS was to receive the opening kickoff to start the season. Whitko tried a pooch kick, and the Zebras fumbled. Whitko recovered at the RHS 39 and scored nine plays later. Gavin Ness, who alternated at quarterback with Schuh, had a 34-yard touchdown run called back on an illegal motion penalty, but Whitko later scored on a Schuh quarterback sneak one play after a Ness 17-yard run.
“We had a nice balance tonight,” Whitko coach Phil Jensen said. “I felt like running the ball and throwing the ball, we did well. The last two games, we’ve thrown it 30-some times a game. I don’t want to throw it that many times. Our offensive coordinator would like to throw it that many times, but we were also running the ball much better tonight.”
RHS halted in-class learning and all fall sports on Aug. 3 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Practice resumed on Aug. 24, and players had to complete 10 practices before they were allowed to compete in a game.
“They did some nice things,” Jensen said of the young Zebras. “To have a freshman starting at fullback and middle linebacker, a two-way starter, that speaks volumes for what’s coming down the road for their program.
“We’re fortunate. We’ve had two games under our belt; they haven’t. It’s a whole different world playing a game and conditioning at game speed than it is practicing. … That obviously played into our favor tonight as well.”
Whitko 28, Rochester 7
Whitko 14 7 7 0 - 28
Rochester 0 0 0 7 - 7
WHI — Ethan Schuh 1 run (Austin Kreps kick)
WHI — Isaiah Kyles 54 pass from Schuh (Kreps kick)
WHI — Cade Berg 2 run (Kreps kick)
WHI — Berg 29 run (Kreps kick)
RHS — Alex Deming 2 run (Kaleb Shaffer kick)