OXFORD — Rensselaer Central looked out of sync early against winless Benton Central Friday night.
But a momentum-swinging defensive play by senior Noah Bierma and a swarming defense against BC’s passing game turned the tide in a 39-6 Hoosier Conference victory at Mallory Field.
The Bison (0-7, 0-3 in the HC) trailed just 7-3 midway through the second quarter as they looked to move the ball into Rensselaer’s side of the field. Short passes by sophomore quarterback Colin Wilkinson placed the ball near midfield with under seven minutes remaining in the first half.
But Bierma stepped in front of BC receiver Payton Bell for the interception and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 13-3 advantage.
The Bison again took small chunks of yardage to get the ball inside RCHS territory with just over a minute remaining, but had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Kenyon McGinnis to trim the lead to 13-6. That left 52 seconds on the clock for RCHS, which got long runs from Addison Wilmington and Dalton Kidd to put the ball inside BC’s 10-yard line with 5.6 seconds remaining.
Noah Bierma carried the ball to the 6-yard line with 1 second left in the half, giving Rensselaer one final shot at putting more points on the board. Back-up quarterback Tate Drone, a sophomore, connected with Bierma on a lob pass to the corner of the end zone with no time remaining to give RCHS a 19-6 lead heading into the locker room.
With momentum on their side, the Bombers opened the second half with a six-play, 53-yard drive capped by Bierma’s 3-yard TD run with just 2 minutes, 26 seconds coming off the clock.
Wilmington broke loose for a 55-yard touchdown run on RCHS’s second offensive possession of the third quarter for a 32-6 lead and Kelton Hesson capped the scoring with a 41-yard touchdown run with under 3 minutes left in the third period for a 39-6 bulge.
The Bombers dominated the Bison in the game’s final three quarters despite turning the ball over three times, including two fumbles.
“They play hard, and it shows on film,” Bombers coach Chris Meeks said of the Bison. “But we didn’t come out as amped as we should’ve been. I thought we did step it up in the second half.”
McGinnis converted a pair of field goals from 31 and 25 yards for BC’s only scores.
The win gives RCHS a 2-2 record in the Hoosier Conference and 5-2 overall. The Bombers will find out next week who they will host in a Hoosier Conference playoff game on Oct. 19.
Rensselaer totaled a season-high 493 rushing yards on 55 plays, with Bierma collecting 164 yards on 18 carries. Wilmington had 111 yards on just 10 carries with two scores — his 2-yard TD run in the first quarter gave the Bombers a 7-3 lead — and Kelton Hesson had 94 yards on nine carries and a score.
Drone, making his first varsity start in place of starter Eli Hickman, completed 3 of 5 passes for 57 yards and a score. He also threw an interception.
“This was his first start at the varsity level, but I thought he did well,” Meeks said of Drone. “He kept composed and threw some nice passes. It was a great opportunity to groom him going forward.”
Hickman will remain on the sideline for a couple of more weeks to heal a broken right (non-throwing) hand.
Defensively for the Bombers, Kiren Hesson had eight tackles with a sack and Kidd had seven tackles, including two tackles for loss.
Wilkinson completed 13 of 29 passes for 119 yards for the Bison, but he was picked off twice. BC had just 124 yards of offense, including 34 rushing yards on 18 attempts.
The Bombers will travel to Northwestern (Kokomo) next Friday night.