Week 3 preview: Rochester defense seeks another strong showing against struggling Whitko offense
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Rochester (1-1, 0-1 TRC) at Whitko (0-2, 0-1), 7 p.m.
Alex Deming’s back-to-back workhorse rushing performances – 487 yards and six touchdowns in games against Southwood and Knox – might be what the Rochester football team is most known for after two weeks.
But its defensive play might also be part of its identity.
Rochester beat Knox 12-7 last week and held Knox to 56 yards rushing in the process. The seven points they allowed were the fewest they have allowed in a game since a 21-7 win over Whitko in 2019.
Rochester led Tippecanoe Valley 14-0 at halftime of the 2019 Bell game. Valley scored 34 points in the second half of that game to win 34-14, and that started a 16-game stretch in which the Zebras went 1-15 and allowed 39 points per game.
The Knox game put a stop to it, at least for one week.
“They’ve done a pretty good job,” Rochester first-year coach Ron Shaffer said. “We were short a little bit in the secondary with players last week, and we were able to come out and get Knox out of their run game. We were a little bit on the slow end of catching up on the passing game, but then the pass defense is what came through in the very end on the last drive. We got three incompletions in a row and were able to get the ball turned back over to us.”
Shaffer said that Rochester was at a speed deficit against Southwood, but he said the Zebras’ speed was about “even” with Knox. Being able to physically compete with its opponents might be a sign of improvement.
There are also a lot of late-night film sessions in terms of preparing for the opponents. First-year defensive coordinator Nate Basham has tailored flexible game plans through two games. The Zebras showed off a 3-4 defense against Southwood and a 4-4 against Knox.
“We’re working hard,” Shaffer said. “There are a lot of late nights. People don’t see that kind of stuff. But a lot of late nights and working on the weekends to make sure we have the best game plan and give our kids the best chance to be successful.
“We were in the middle of the week scrambling a little bit. We had a game plan, but things got changed up a little bit, and kids adapted well. … Coach Basham’s prepared. He’s watching a lot of film. He’s getting the kids ready, and they’re excited to play defense for him.”
Whitko is coming off back-to-back 39-7 losses to Prairie Heights and Peru in its first two games under new coach Chip Coldiron. They beat Rochester 28-7 at Barnhart Field last year but are just 2-7 in nine games since.
Whitko is averaging just over 100 yards of offense per game. Isaiah Kyles leads Whitko in carries, but his status is unclear after leaving the Peru game due to an injury. Shaffer called Kyles the “focal point” of Whitko’s offense. Tyler Veach, who was listed as a tight end, led the Wildcats with 83 yards rushing last week.
“We’ve seen about three different guys line up at quarterback, three or four line up at ytailback and a couple different fullbacks,” Shaffer said. “For us, we’ve been mainly focusing on plays and formations and what we want to do against those sets rather than personnel.”