Week 7 preview: Caston seeks better line play vs. Shuman, Culver
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Caston (0-6, 0-4 Hoosier North) at Culver (3-3, 1-3), 7 p.m.
Caston led 16-14 at halftime last week against North White, but North White outscored Caston 19-0 in the second half to earn a 33-16 win.
“We definitely did not move the ball,” Caston coach Chris Ulerick said. “We came out, and we were relatively flat and lacked the spark that we had there late in that second quarter that got us into the lead. We just got to continue to execute. We’ve got to come out from halftime and play a better football game.
Better line play is key to turning around the season, according to Ulerick.
“I think our skill kids, they can hang with about anybody on any team,” Ulerick said. “We’ve got to be more consistent. We’ve got to be more tough on the offensive and defensive lines, and that’s been the story of the year so far.”
Caston has lost 10 straight games dating back to last year, including a 22-14 loss to Culver on Oct. 1, 2021. They are 0-7 against Culver since becoming conference rivals with the Cavaliers in 2015.
They know stopping fullback Shane Shuman, who had 253 yards and three touchdowns rushing on 44 carries in a 26-20 win over Winamac last week, will be key to stopping the Culver offense.
“He’s a big, strong, physical Mike Zehner-coached kid,” Ulerick said. “He’s not the only one. Those kids are used to getting tough yards. They will be tough kids, and they will block the point of attack very well.”
Culver got a tough kid back from injury when Steven Pugh returned from a one-game injury absence to play center against Winamac. Devin Burkett, Braiden Molebash and Ben Lee are other standout offensive linemen who open holes for Shuman and the ground attack, and they drew praise from coach Mike Zehner.
“I really felt like this was probably the best offensive line we put out there all season,” Zehner said. “We put Braiden Molebash at guard on the left side, and Travis Blankenship played tackle. You know, we challenged those guys this week. Obviously, they weren’t happy with their performance against Triton (a 42-0 loss). We challenged them this week in practice, and I felt like they stepped up to the challenge and really did a nice job.”
Zehner chuckled when asked about Shuman’s stamina. He said he checked in with Shuman, who is also an all-state linebacker on defense, at halftime of the Winamac game to see how he was doing.
“I feel fine,” Shuman told Zehner. “I feel great.”
Now they face a Caston team that will use multiple wide receivers as weapons for quarterback Landon Shafer. But that does not mean they rely exclusively on the pass.
“I think they try to establish the run early on,” Zehner said. “The Shafer kid is back at quarterback. I think he started there as a freshman. He’s played some other spots as well. He’s a load to bring down. He throws the ball well. They like to target their tight end quite a bit. They’ll run some buck. They’ll run some trap. They’ll run some non-quarterback isos, sweeps, things like that. They’ll try to outflank you with some different formations. But they’re not afraid to throw the ball. They’ll throw the ball 40 times a game too, so we’ve got to be ready for that.”
Zehner said he expects Caston to play a four-man front on defense and could walk a linebacker up to the line. He also said that any opponent might be inclined to stack the box after seeing Shuman run the ball 44 times on film.
Zehner said that Emiliano Ortiz should be “good to go” after missing last week’s game due to illness. Caston’s Oliver Trigg remains out.
This is Culver’s homecoming game.