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  • Val T.

Week 3 preview: Zebras to celebrate 1987, host Whitko


Sports Editor, RTC

Whitko (0-2, 0-1 Three Rivers Conference) at Rochester (2-0, 1-0), 7 p.m.

Steve Ruckman’s field goal against Madison-Grant. Steve Bryant’s touchdown run on a draw play against Western Boone. Playing in the cold in the semistate at North Newton. Brad McMillen and Tim Walker playing through their injuries during their state tournament run. A missed field goal by Indianapolis Ritter that secured them the state title.

The 1987 Rochester football team will celebrate the 35th anniversary of their state championship Friday as part of homecoming.

They have their iconic moments while the current Zebras are building their own.

Rochester trailed 14-7 at halftime against Southwood in their season opener but came back to win 35-21. They trailed 16-8 at halftime against Knox and came back to win 48-46.

There has already been Payton Luhnow’s 75-yard touchdown reception against Southwood in which the Knights only had 10 men on the field and Dylan Hook’s tackle on Knox’s potential game-tying two-point conversion attempt.

And there is also Alex Deming.

Running behind an offensive line that both exploits crisp angles from its wing-T sets and exhibits brute force, the junior fullback already has 416 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. He has 29 touchdowns since the start of the 2021 season.

As a team, Rochester is averaging 424 yards of offense and 41.5 points per game.

But there might be a defensive quandary. On one hand, freshman Brant Beck, in just his second varsity game, led the defense with 11 tackles against Knox.

On the other hand, is it a good thing when a safety leads your team in tackles? Rochester coach Ron Shaffer, who was a freshman on North Miami’s football team in the fall of 1987, would like Beck to be “cleaning things up” with the linebackers in front of him and not the last line of defense in charge of preventing long touchdown plays by the opponent.

“It’s not always good that your safety is leading your team in tackles, but what he is doing is he’s giving us a second chance on plays,” Shaffer said. “He’s that guy that does stop the big play and gives you a chance to play another set of downs. He is asked to … insert himself and run the alley and make tackles. After film review and watching, there are some times he’s lined up too deep. We’d like him to be a little bit closer to the line of scrimmage in that situation with Knox.

“As far as his development as a freshman and playing that position, we ask a lot of him, and he’s coming along, and he’s progressing very well.”

Though Knox’s Cohen Watson (155 yards) and Jake Conrow (115 yards) both went over 100 yards rushing and Xazvier Roman added 98 yards, the Zebras did stop Watson on a fourth-and-2 inside Knox’s own 30 in the third quarter with the game tied at 24. Gavin McKee scored two plays later to give the Zebras their first lead, and they never trailed again.

“That was a pretty much a team effort,” Shaffer said of the fourth down stop on Watson. “That’s what it’s supposed to look like as far as guys reading their keys, closing gaps, and (we) bottlenecked the quarterback there, and he had nowhere to go.”

Rochester will try to show defensive improvement against a Whitko team that has not scored yet in losses to Prairie Heights and Peru.

Quarterback Jack Hill and running back Dean Boggs lead the Whitko offense.

“Still looks like they’re going to go spread,” Shaffer said. “There will be a little bit of I-backs with the tight end wand twin sets, but they seem like to like the spread look. They’re struggling a little bit with numbers and kids and just having some veteran presence. But their quarterback Jack Hill is probably the guy that makes them go the most.”

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