Season wrap-up: Shaffer hopes for more improvement from Zebra offense
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Rochester’s wing-T offense averaged 352 yards rushing per game in 2022. They scored 65 touchdowns in 12 games. They averaged 40 points per game.
It helped lead to a 10-2 record and the team’s first trip to a sectional final since 2000. The 10 wins were also Rochester’s most since the 2000 team won 11 games. And they shared the Three Rivers Conference title with Tippecanoe Valley and Southwood. (For those wondering, three different conference championship trophies were given out, and Rochester coach Ron Shaffer received Rochester’s at a coach’s meeting on the Sunday after the sectional semifinal win over Benton Central.)
However, the team was held to 226 yards of offense in a season-ending 24-8 loss to Lafayette Central Catholic in the Class 2A, Sectional 34 final.
The Knights lined up their defensive ends more narrowly than most opponents and stifled Rochester’s running game, according to Shaffer.
“We saw double ‘1’ techniques, which is not a lot of teams want to try to do that because they don’t have the defensive ends to back that up by playing them in the ‘C’ gap and hoping they can control that and their linebackers to just fill ‘B’ (gap),” Shaffer explained. “It’s what we expected from them. We saw that on film. We saw that on film. We just hadn’t seen that from anybody else all year. But it still gave us some gaps in their defense to do the things we wanted to do and execute.”
Shaffer also noted that 10 of Central Catholic’s 11 offensive starters were seniors.
“They’ve been together quite a bit and were really efficient on offense at times,” Shaffer said. “It makes it hard to stop them. And they play really good sound defense. For us, everything had to add up, and it was starting to, and you can’t get off schedule. You can’t miss your opportunities, and that’s kind of what happened.”
Alex Deming, Colton Ferverda and Brant Beck, the team’s top three running backs, had over 3,300 yards rushing between the three of them, and all three will be back.
However, quarterback Aaron Swango and wide receiver Payton Luhnow are among those who graduate. Swango only completed 12 passes, and only one of those completions occurred in the final five games. Luhnow, who played defense only for much of the second half of the season, had nine receptions; no other Zebra had more than one catch.
But Shaffer said there are players on the roster that are “willing to go the extra mile” and can fill the voids that those players will be leaving.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Shaffer responded when asked if the offense can get better. “There were some limitations with the skill sets that we had, and so there will be some opportunities to open up the offense a little bit more next year.”
Another factor in building a more successful offense might be fortifying the offensive and defensive lines. Center Austin Rogers and right tackle Hunter Shriver are among those who graduate.
“It’s always important,” Shaffer said. “We never stop thinking about that. We always got to develop those guys because you need so many of them. You need six or seven to eight offensive linemen that can play on a Friday night or have the potential go in.
“Four defensive linemen, so you need five or six that are ready to go. That’s a lot of guys to have ready. So the biggest thing is right now the weight room. Get that strength developed and the skills will come.”