RENSSELAER — Rensselaer Central coach Chris Meeks was asked to rattle off the names of the true heroes in the Bombers’ 24-7 Hoosier Conference playoff win Friday at the Harrison Athletic Complex.
“Center Ky Risner, our guards were Jacob Grow and Owen Davisson, tackles were Jared Riegle and Max Korniak and the tight ends were Stephen Duncan and Luke Standish,” Meeks said. “The offensive line did a good job tonight. They’ve been coming into their own the last few weeks and I’m pleased with the way we played tonight.”
The line was so good that the Bombers had three running backs gain over 100 yards for the first time this season. Senior Noah Bierma gained 169 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns, Kelton Hessn added 141 yards on 13 carries with a score and Addison Wilmington rushed for over 100 yards for the fourth straight game, gaining 117 on 13 carries.
As a team, the Bombers (7-2) had 444 yards on 51 running plays with three touchdowns.
“We have a lot of depth there,” Meeks said of the backs. “When you have a running offense it’s important to have depth. A lot of them had big games tonight. They block for each other really well. They’re not greedy and they like to see each other have success.”
Bierma, for one, isn’t about to forget his team’s line play.
“The line’s always kind of slept on, and that’s any team,” he said. “But they pretty much are the most important people, offensively and defensively. I thought they played an amazing game tonight and we just worked off of that.
“We handled the ball well, we made the right cuts and just found the hole.”
Tipton (5-4) scored the game’s first touchdown when Anthony Reel capped an 11-play, 70-yard opening drive with a 1-yard burst into the end zone.
But the Blue Devils would reach the red zone just twice more the rest of the game, with many of their drives stifled at mid-field by Rensselaer’s defense.
Tipton was held to just 142 total yards on 40 offensive plays, including 72 yards after the game’s first drive. Standish and Hesson had seven tackles apiece and Lorenzo Ramirez and Grow had sacks.
“Our coaches did a nice job of making some adjustments,” Meeks said of the improved defensive play. “You’ve got two very good football teams and there were a lot of adjustments made on both sides as the game went on. I thought our defense really settled in.”
The Bomber players also began to talk more, Bierma said.
“We kind of felt them out at the beginning,” he said. “But then we started to talk more after each play and discuss where we all need to be. We had problems a couple of times with how we lined up, so we talked about that. I think our communication really helped us out.”
Rensselaer finally got on the board midway through the second period when Bierma broke free for a 76-yard touchdown at the 7:41 mark. Wilmington’s 2-point run gave RCHS the lead for good at 8-7.
Tipton appeared to have slowed Bierma after a 10-yard gain, but the Bomber tailback pulled free and out-ran two Tipton defenders to the end zone.
“I felt myself kind of break loose. I saw them to my right and I knew I was going to have to turn on the jets a little bit to get into the end zone,” Bierma said.
The Bombers scored again two possessions later, with Bierma capping a 67-yard drive with a 3-yard dive into the end zone. Prior to Bierma’s score, Wilmington sprinted 51 yards down the sideline before he was nudged out at the 3-yard line by a pair of Tipton defenders.
Bierma’s 2-point conversion run gave the Bombers a 16-7 lead with 1:16 left in the first half.
RCHS reached the red zone three times in the second half, punching the ball in with 9:29 showing in the fourth quarter on Hesson’s 64-yard run. Wilmington’s 2-point conversion run gave the Bombers their 24th straight point.
The Bombers reached Tipton’s 3-yard line with 50 seconds showing in the game, but twice took a knee with the game already decided.
“We’d run the ball well and then we’d get down to the 30 yard line and kind of sputter,” Meeks said. “It’s something we’ve got to keep looking at. We’ve got to finish drives, but I thought we did a good job of getting to the red zone tonight.”
The win was the 600th in the history of Bomber football, which first formed a team in 1898. The program currently owns a 600-433-25 record, ranking it 12th in the state.
“It’s a great achievement,” Meeks said. “We’ve been playing football since 1898, so there’s a whole lot of football players who went through this program … players, managers and coaches. It’s just a great honor and I’m glad we were a part of it.”
The Bombers return to action next week when they travel to Wheeler (4-5) for a Class 2A Sectional 33 opener. Tipton travels to 1-8 Frankton for a 2A Sectional 36 playoff game Friday.