BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Prior to Friday, the Rochester football team had not beaten Maconaquah since the 1998 sectional and had not had a winning season since 2018.
Thanks to their wing-T rushing attack and a sure-handed tackling effort on defense, they took care of both at Barnhart Field.
Alex Deming ran for 161 yards and three touchdowns, and Antonio Schlosser ran for 101 yards and a score as the Zebras pulled away for a 44-12 win over the Braves.
Payton Luhnow added a pair of touchdown runs, and Parker Wallace made both of his extra point tries for Rochester, who finished the regular season 5-2 overall and 4-2 in the Three Rivers Conference. They had been 0-4 against Maconaquah since the schools became conference rivals in 2015, including a 29-28 overtime loss in Bunker Hill last year.
There was no such drama on Friday.
Braxton Birner threw two touchdown passes for the Braves, who fell to 2-5, 2-5.
Birner’s second touchdown pass was an 11-yarder on fourth-and-goal to Fuddy Kile with 8:26 left in the half. That cut the Rochester lead to 14-12.
Birner’s two-point conversion pass attempt fell incomplete, and Rochester finished the game with 30 unanswered points.
Birner came in averaging 37 pass attempts per game. He attempted 35 passes in this game. He threw touchdown passes on consecutive drives in the first half, including an 80-yarder to Brayden Betzner.
But after those two scoring drives, Maconaquah never got into the Rochester red zone again.
“Just tackling,” Rochester coach Ron Shaffer said when asked about defensive adjustments. “If he shoves him out of bounds, if he wraps and lets the team get there, then we’re playing again and they’ve got to make plays, and that’s what we tried to make them do all night – make consistent plays down the field and just really good tackling and good swarming to the football.”
On the ensuing possession after Kile’s touchdown catch, Schlosser took a counter up the middle and won a foot race to the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown run. Payton Luhnow tacked on a two-point conversion run to make it 22-12.
The touchdown marked the third consecutive game in which he has scored.
“It was a criss-cross left,” Schlosser said. “And Luhnow made a great fake and allowed me to get through, and they were pulling to him. Our line had great blocks. There was a big hole that I could just run through.”
On their next possession, Maconaquah gained only two yards in four plays. Birner threw incomplete on a pass intended for Kile on fourth down, and Rochester took over on the Maconaquah 37.
Deming had runs of 14 and 13 yards on the next two plays to give Rochester first-and-goal. Three plays later, Deming scored from the 1, and he added a two-point conversion run to make it 30-12.
On the first possession of the second half, the Zebras went on another nine-play, 66-yard scoring drive. Deming had eight carries for 60 yards on the drive, including a 12-yard touchdown run up the middle. Schlosser’s two-point conversion made it 38-12.
The Zebras went on a 15-play, 84-yard drive covering the third and fourth quarters after an Aaron Swango interception. Swango, who is also the Zebras’ junior quarterback, had a four-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Rochester 4 on the seventh play of the drive.
Luhnow straight-armed a would-be Maconaquah tackler on a counter to the right and cut back for the game’s final scoring play.
“We said that they’d quit at some point,” Shaffer said. “We thought they would. And the kids just imposed their will offensively. It’s a trench war out there, so we thought hey, we’ll go double tight (ends) and make them play on our playground.”
Two-way lineman Jesse Shriver, one of the seniors honored in pregame ceremonies, credited Shaffer.
“He’s been a real big difference for us,” Shriver said. “Obviously, our backs are stepping it up and running the ball a lot harder for us, and we’re getting blocks for them. … He tells us every game that he loves us as people and that he cares about what we do.”
After a low punt snap that got away from Betzner, who was also Maconaquah’s punter, Rochester took over on the Maconaquah 26 on their first drive. They scored in seven plays with Deming plowing in from the 1.
Betzner escaped two tackles on an out route to the sideline and raced 80 yards down the visitors’ sidelines for a touchdown to make it 7-6.
But Rochester responded with a 12-play, 63-yard drive that Luhnow capped off with a 3-yard touchdown run with 56.0 seconds left in the quarter. The Zebras converted twice on fourth down during the drive – a 5-yard Deming run on fourth-and-2 from their own 45 and a 4-yard Deming run on fourth-and-4 from the Maconaquah 44 that included a five-yard inadvertent facemask penalty on Maconaquah tacked on to end of the play.
Rochester 44, Maconaquah 12
Maconaquah 6 6 0 0 – 12
Rochester 14 16 8 6 – 44
RHS – Alex Deming 1 run (Parker Wallace kick)
MAC – Brayden Betzner 80 pass from Braxton Birner (pass failed)
RHS – Payton Luhnow 3 run (Wallace kick)
MAC – Fuddy Kile 11 pass from Birner (pass failed)
RHS – Antonio Schlosser 65 run (Luhnow run)
RHS – Deming 1 run (Deming run)
RHS – Deming 12 run (Schlosser run)
RHS – Luhnow 7 run (run failed)