Week 5 football preview: Valley seeks 3rd straight Bell win vs. Zebras
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Rochester (0-2, 0-2 Three Rivers Conference) at Tippecanoe Valley (2-2, 2-1), 7 p.m.
Not even the coronavirus pandemic can prevent the Bell game from happening.
However, it will happen on a smaller scale. Only 600 fans from each team will be allowed to attend Smith-Bibler Memorial Field – Home of Death Valley Football Friday.
No tickets will be sold at the gate. All tickets were pre-sold well before the opening kickoff at each respective school.
However, it does mark the first Bell game without Valley coach Jeff Shriver, who died last December of cancer.
It also marks the return of the Zebras to Death Valley for the first time since 2018. RHS went into the Bell game 6-0. They led 7-0 in the fourth quarter, but Valley rallied to win 13-7 thanks to two acrobatic catches – one by Jace Potter and one by Alex Morrison – that set up two Valley touchdowns.
One could argue that the 2018 Bell game has had a divergent impact on the two programs.
Since the 2018 Bell game, RHS has gone 6-12, and Valley has gone 12-8.
The 2020 version of the Zebras is just building an identity after losing to Whitko and Manchester by 48 points combined in their first two games. That followed a three-week in-class learning and sports shutdown due to coronavirus exposure within the student body.
Stopping the run might be the first priority in this game. The Zebras have allowed their opponents to run for 534 yards in their first two games. That might be especially scary since Valley ran for 288 yards against them last year in a 34-14 win at Barnhart Field.
“I think we did improve in the Manchester game,” RHS coach Sean Kelly said. “10 (Manchester running back Braxton Ream) is very quick. We don’t have anybody with his type of quickness or speed, but I think we did adjust very well to the speed of the game.”
Kelly said he talked to the team about letting the opponent convert on third and fourth downs. A 53-yard touchdown pass from Manchester’s Brock Casper to Seth Gaerte was especially deflating.
“We had so many situations where we had them in third down and fourth down or we needed a third-down play or fourth-down play where they stepped up and made the plays and we didn’t step and make the plays,” Kelly said.
As for Valley, they are coming off a 60-0 win over North Miami last week. That was their largest margin of victory in a game since a 63-0 win over Wabash in September 2011.
“We did a good job of knowing our reads and keys and doing our assignments,” Valley coach Stephen Moriarty said. “I think this week was a big week for us to have assignment football because of their offense that (North Miami) ran. They are very smoke and mirrors, hard to find the ball a lot. But if you did your job, and we did, it ended up being successful.”
Moriarty calls RHS senior quarterback Reece Renie “the calm in the storm” of the offense. With relatively inexperienced or new faces at the skill positions like receivers Andrew Bauch and Jarret Regan, tight ends Alex Griggs and Evan Brock and running backs Alex Deming, Colton Ferverda and Dakota Palmer, it’s Renie who provides leadership.
Another aspect of the Zebra offense also impresses Moriarty.
“I think their offensive line is good,” Moriarty said. “I think they do a great job of trapping and also picking up blitzes. … If we don’t play and do our reads and keys this week, we’ll be in trouble up front.”
Moriarty also said the RHS defensive front four is good at not shooting up the field. Though they have struggled, he said they still play hard.
“I think that we’ll have to make sure that we can find our blocking assignments against them,” Moriarty said. “They do blitz, and they do a good job of timing them out.”
As for Valley’s offense, they had over 200 yards rushing and over 200 yards passing against North Miami. In fact, they achieved those 235 passing yards on just six pass attempts from quarterback Branson McBrier.
“I think they’ve always been a little bit of a run-first past, but this year, they’re very balanced, and they’re not afraid to throw on any down,” Kelly said. “So we’ve got to be prepared for what they’re trying to do and adjust and make sure we’re ready for both run and pass.”
Look for RHS junior Braedon Pinder to start at both right tackle on offense and defensive tackle. He started on defense only against Whitko and Manchester.
RHS junior Kaleb Shaffer started the season at outside linebacker, but he has since moved to defensive end. Luke Wortley will start at the other defensive end. Marshall Fishback, who started the season at defensive end, will start at defensive tackle next to Pinder. Gavin McKee, who started on offense only against Whitko and Manchester, will start on defense at outside linebacker but won’t start on offense.
Valley has five two-way starters: tight end-defensive end Quentin Aldridge, wide receiver-cornerback Jacob Davis, running back-outside linebacker Alex Craft, fullback-middle linebacker Johnny Gonsalez and wingback-outside linebacker Jamasyn Virgil.
Moriarty said junior running back-defensive back Braden Shepherd will miss his fourth straight game with an injury.
Valley has won the Bell two straight years. They haven’t won the Bell three straight years since 2011-13.