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  • Val T.

Week 7 preview: Zebras, improved at gang tackling, to face Northfield’s Fisher, Kinsey

BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

Rochester (5-1, 4-1 Three Rivers Conference) at Northfield (3-3, 2-3), 7 p.m.

The Rochester football team’s defense might be playing its best of the season after beating Peru 34-6 last week.

Peru had 231 yards of offense but committed three turnovers, and two of the turnovers led to Rochester touchdowns.

Rochester coach Ron Shaffer said more Zebra helmets were flowing toward the Peru ball carriers.

“The kids flew around to the football, finished tackles and knew their assignments pretty well,” Shaffer said. “And so we were happy with it. It definitely ranks up there as one of our better efforts all year.”

Offensively, the Zebras ran for 348 yards on 8.3 yards per carry against Peru. They accomplished this with Eli Swango playing left guard and Brady Beck moving from left guard to left tackle due to the suspension of regular left tackle Xavier Vance.

“Know your rules” is a consistent theme for playing the offensive line in Shaffer’s wing-T system. (For competitive purposes, Shaffer does not specifically expound on what the rules are, but he did say the rules do not change from game to game.)

Technology helps the offensive line make adjustments in games. That happened against Peru when Tiger linebacker Alex Ross shot through for three tackles for loss. Thanks to an iPad assistant coach Deric Beck carries during a game, he can make adjustments if the “rules” get broken.

“We are able to make a lot of our adjustments on the fly because of the technology that’s at our fingertips on the sidelines, where years ago you didn’t make those adjustments until you could get them maybe at halftime,” Shaffer said. “A lot of time, you’re relying on the kids to tell you the truth where kids were lining up. We get that end zone shot immediately after a play, and so our kids are able to get that feedback from the coaches immediately.”

They will try to block a Northfield defense that held Wabash to 18 rushing yards last week in a 42-7 win. Jordan Kinsey and Dylan Ross had 10 tackles each.

“He plays inside backer, flies around,” Shaffer said of Kinsey. “He’s the guy they like to bring on blitzes if they bring anybody. He gave us fits last year, and I’m sure he’ll give us fits this year too.”

Offensively, Northfield runs a midline option offense. They had over 330 yards rushing last week in a 42-7 win over Wabash. Quarterback Mason Fisher and fullback Jordan Kinsey play key roles in the option.

“He’s an option quarterback through and through,” Shaffer said of Fisher, who also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in Northfield’s 28-21 win at Rochester last year. “He played halfback for them last year. He’s a kick returner. Still is a kick returner. He’s dangerous. … As an option quarterback, he’s doing a pretty good job on midline and inside veer, and he’s thrown the ball well. He’s thrown for over 400 yards, and in that offense, 400 yards passing is equitable. It’s good. It’s what they need to do to be successful. He’s guided that offense pretty well.”

Kinsey had 79 yards rushing against Wabash.

“We feel like the priority definitely is to stop the fullback,” Shaffer said. “We do not want him to gain 100 yards. We want to keep him bottled up, and not secondary to it but just as important is stopping the quarterback. You can concentrate on the fullback all you want, but if he pulls the ball and runs wild on your defense, you’re in trouble. So it’s really playing assignment football, but the big thing is starting with that fullback because that’s what triggers their offense, and if he’s running roughshod through the middle of your defense, you’re going to have a very long evening.”

Jaxton Peas, who leads Northfield in both rushing and receiving yards, drew comparisons to a Rochester player from Shaffer.

“He’s Northfield’s version of Payton Luhnow,” Shaffer said. “He can catch the ball well. Runs good routes. And he’s going to run the ball well too.”

Northfield has won the last three meetings, including a 62-0 loss the last time they traveled there in 2020.

“It’s good right now,” Shaffer said of the players’ confidence level. “We got a really good practice in on Tuesday, and we expect the same to carry through this week, so it seems like everybody’s back, minus D.J. Basham, so things are moving in the right direction.”

Basham suffered a broken ankle in the scrimmage against Winamac on Aug. 12. Shaffer said no timeline has been set on any return yet.


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