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  • Val T.

Week 11 preview: After bye, Zebras return to face Metzger, LCC passing attack


Sports Editor, RTC

Rochester (7-2) at Lafayette Central Catholic (7-3), 7 p.m.

(Winner plays Seeger-Lewis Cass winner in the Class 2A, Sectional 34 final)

After a bye week in which many players went to see their future opponent, the Rochester football team returns to the field to take on Lafayette Central Catholic in a Class 2A, Sectional 34 semifinal Friday.

While they are playing the same Lafayette Central Catholic team that beat them 24-8 in last year’s sectional final, they saw new personnel and perhaps the best passing attack they have seen this season.

Last year, Ben Mazur was the Central Catholic quarterback. Mazur has graduated, and the running backs and receivers that helped Mazur account for 236 of the 239 yards of offense that Central Catholic had in that game also graduated.

Meanwhile, Rochester had 226 yards of offense that game, and everybody who accounted for the 226 yards – specifically Alex Deming, Colton Ferverda and Brant Beck – is back.

Central Catholic is seeking its sixth consecutive sectional title, and they once again have reloaded with junior quarterback Bobby Metzger and a receiving trio consisting of juniors Ray Clayton and Hudson Gutwein and sophomore Noah Smith.

Metzger threw for 396 yards and five touchdowns in Central Catholic’s 42-14 win over Winamac last week. Clayton had 10 catches for 222 yards and a touchdown, and Gutwein ended up in the end zone on three of his four catches. Smith also had an 81-yard touchdown catch.

After Wabash, Southwood and Maconaquah, this is the fourth spread offense that Rochester has seen this season.

“Pretty good decision maker with the football,” Rochester coach Ron Shaffer said of Metzger. “He seems like he’s a pretty cool cat back there in the pocket. He doesn’t get too frazzled from anything going on. He’s seen quite a bit. His accuracy is really good in the short game. He can throw the deep ball, but he’s got really good vision and really good decision-making.”

Another Central Catholic weapon is sophomore running back Mason Meister. Meister’s numbers were modest against Winamac – six carries for 20 yards and a touchdown – but the previous week against Western, he had 34 carries for 218 yards and three touchdowns playing on a rainy field. The forecast for Friday is for unusually warm late October temperatures and scattered thunderstorms to begin right around game time.

“He got injured against Guerin Catholic (a 27-3 Central Catholic loss on Aug. 25) and was out quite a bit,” Shaffer said. “He’s a jump-cut kind of guy. He’s always looking to bounce a play when he can, but as we would call it in the inside zone game, he can bang it in the gap real fast too or bounce it. So he’s got real good vision and quickness but has struggled with injury this past year.”

As for Rochester defensively, a highlight in a 36-14 win over Maconaquah two weeks ago was a goal line stand on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard-line. Shaffer said the players were prepared. Maconaquah quarterback Braxton Birner, who typically takes every snap out of the shotgun, lined up under center. The Braves were in a hurry-up offense – “going tempo” in football vernacular – to try to catch the Zebras before they could get aligned.

The Zebras knew through film study that Maconaquah had only ever run a quarterback sneak when lining up under center. The Zebras quickly got aligned, Birner tried a sneak, and defensive tackles Brady Beck and Xavier Vance stood up the Maconaquah offensive line. Peyton Young then broke through and helped drag Birner down.

Rochester then followed with a 99-yard touchdown drive that Deming capped with a 59-yard touchdown run.

“They had done that on the previous play, held them out, and then on consecutive plays, they tried to do the same thing going quickly,” Shaffer said. “I’m kind of glad they did. I’d rather defend that than defend them running all over the place with their five receivers and trying to throw the ball and with Birner being able to run the ball from inside the pocket. Kids recognized it well. We had talked to them about under center is going to be a quarterback sneak, and they defended it well.”

As for the Rochester running game, Deming is coming off a season-high 230 yards rushing against Maconaquah. He is up to 1,110 yards for the season.

He has had six games of 100 or more yards rushing this season and 23 such games since the start of the 2021 season. One of those 23 came against Central Catholic last year when he ran for 119 yards.

His per-carry average has gone up from 6.4 last year to 8.7 this year.

“We can always all get better,” Shaffer said. “I think he can improve little things here and there. He still fumbled the ball one time against Maconaquah. … You can’t let those things happen. His production has been very consistent, and I think a lot of the other running backs are benefitting from what he’s done the last three years as far as (Colton) Ferverda gets good touches, Brant Beck gets good touches because a lot of times in our offense, if you can’t stop the fullback, you’re in for a long damn night. … Everybody’s benefitting from his consistent production.”

Aiden Sattler, Aiden Schaffer, Isaac Buche and Owen Munn spearheaded the Central Catholic defense in that game, but they have also graduated. However, Albert Schwartz is back. He stands 6-6 and is a stalwart on the Central Catholic defensive line.

Shaffer said Central Catholic plays a 3-4 defense as their base, but they can also play a 4-4, which is the defense they played against Rochester last year. Shaffer said they are preparing for both defenses. He said the 3-4 looks similar to the defense that Maconaquah showed two weeks ago and the 4-4 resembles the defense that Lewis Cass played against them last month.

Meanwhile, center Callen Ferverda and tackle Mason Hisey continue to receive more playing time to join guards Brady Beck and Young and left tackle Vance on the Rochester offensive line. Colin Weiand and Wesley Meadows have both seen time at tight end, and sophomore quarterback Carson Paulik, who played tight end in last year’s postseason, have also helped with the blocking.

Shaffer said “front identification” – odd or even front – will be key for the offensive line. They must notice Central Catholic’s alignment and adjust their blocking scheme accordingly.

“We feel pretty solid now in our personnel where they’re at,” Shaffer said. “Kinda jumped around a little bit back and forth at center and a little bit at right tackle. We’re settled now on our starting lineup, and the chemistry is forming and still forming and probably at its best right now between all those guys talking to each other, knowing the blocking assignments, not necessarily to the point where we know what we’re doing for each other without verbalizing it, but I’m OK with the verbalization of what we’re doing and the talking. So I think just chemistry-wise and jelling, everything’s really starting to come together that way.”

Shaffer said he watched Central Catholic’s win over Winamac on television. In addition to “a bunch of” players, assistant coach Eric Davis saw it in person.

Rochester has not made consecutive sectional final appearances since 1995-96. They will try to end that streak Friday.

“I think they’re pretty determined and focused,” Shaffer said. “We’ve had two weeks to prepare for LCC. … It doesn't mean that that’s going to make it any easier to defend them or any easier to run the ball on them, but our kids should be prepared.”

Shaffer said that Grant Clark has resumed practicing this week after being sidelined with what Shaffer called a medical “situation.”

If Rochester wins, they would play Seeger on the road or Lewis Cass at home in the sectional final.

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