Week 2 preview: For Zebras to win first Bell since 2017, can they run on Valley?
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Tippecanoe Valley (1-0) at Rochester (1-0), 7 p.m.
The Bell game is back, and your calendar is not lying. It’s still August.
Valley seeks to keep the Bell for the fifth straight time. Rochester seeks their first Bell since 2017.
But there are no conference ramifications, which loomed over this game as the Bell was introduced to this rivalry just as Rochester joined the TRC in 1987.
For the 35-year period (1987-2022) in which these two schools were TRC rivals, either Rochester or Valley or both won the conference 20 times. In other words, this game was not only for the Bell but more often than not dictated who would win the conference.
Valley is not currently in a conference after a series of events over a three-week period in March and April in which Valley told the TRC that they were leaving and the TRC told Valley they were being removed a year earlier than they wished.
Valley will join what WHME’s Angelo DiCarlo reported will be called the Northern State Conference next year.
When they were putting together a schedule for this year, Valley said keeping Rochester on the schedule was a top priority, according to Valley coach Stephen Moriarty.
While it might be odd that Rochester and Valley are playing a nonconference game against each other, it’s not uncommon. From 1978-86, they played a nonconference game against each other every year. From 1978-82, they played in Week 2 every year. And in 1991 and 1992, they played sectional games against each other with Valley winning both.
So that is what is new and old about the rivalry.
As for the present, there might be two more crucial questions that could be the game within the game:
Can the Rochester wing-T offense run the ball on Valley’s defense? Rochester ran the ball for 106 yards against Valley’s defense last year in a 26-17 loss. They averaged 375 yards rushing in their other 11 games last year, and they ran for 317 yards last week in a season-opening 56-7 win over Wabash.
Can the Rochester defense, which held Wabash top returning rusher Keaton Fields to 35 yards last week, stop Valley’s Nate Parker? Parker ran for 172 yards and a touchdown and also caught a 47-yard touchdown pass in last year’s Bell game. Parker is also a top kick returner.
“They’re all around a good team and very well coached,” Moriarty said of Rochester. “It’s going to be very difficult to move them. I thought against Wabash, they didn’t have to worry about establishing a new line of scrimmage because the defense did it for them. The defensive front got penetration. They didn’t get blocked down or pinched down or anything. They were able to hold their own and get some plays behind the line of scrimmage just on their defensive (front) four.”
Rochester coach Ron Shaffer admires Parker’s versatility and doggedness. He expects Cody Eastgate to spend most of his time under center but does not rule out Parker playing some quarterback in a wildcat formation where he will take the snap and run.
“He’s tough, maybe one of the toughest players we play,” Shaffer said of Parker. “Runs hard. He’s low to the ground and has very good balance, stays over his toes as he runs. He’s just very hard to bring down. He was a huge difference maker in last year’s game. … They use him not only as a running back but as a wing, as a tailback, as a quarterback. He’s pretty important to them. I have a lot of respect for the way he plays the game.”
The Valley defense held Rochester senior fullback Alex Deming to 39 yards rushing last year. That’s his lowest output since he became a full-time starter at the start of his sophomore year. The only other times he rushed for fewer than 100 yards was last year’s Whitko game, a 70-0 Rochester win in which Deming’s night was done after three carries in the first quarter, and a 34-6 win over Peru last year in which he rushed for 97 yards.
Shaffer calls Valley’s defense a “gap-exchange defense.” The Valley safety’s job – usually Parker or Wade Jones – will be to watch the man in motion and roll in his direction prior to the snap. The linemen get off the ball extremely quickly, and Dalton Alber is a four-year starter at defensive end.
“We have to do what we do,” Shaffer said. “Obviously, we can’t expect to win a ballgame just rushing the ball for a little over 100 yards. That being said, we were right in the game last year in the fourth quarter. Drove down, fumbled the ball, did stupid stuff and didn’t score. You just can’t make those mistakes against a real good team. Valley’s trying to be a really good 3A and try to be relevant in the 3A tournament, and that’s tough for us. If they were 2A, they’re probably playing in Lucas Oil every year.
“That’s a tough draw for us, but we just have to play a little bit tougher on the offensive line and move the ball better.”
Valley beat Wawasee 23-12 last week. Highlights included an Asher McGriff interception return for a touchdown, which was one of four takeaways on defense and a result of pressure on the quarterback; a touchdown run from junior fullback Brock Derf; a 72-yard output on the ground from sophomore Grady Moriarty on just two carries; and three field goals from sophomore Gage Overbey, including a 46-yarder.
“I was pleased with the way we got after it,” coach Moriarty said when asked for the highlights of the Wawasee game. “And then, of course, the four turnovers, the four interceptions. … And our three field goals … Gage Overbey set the school record.”