RENSSELAER — Nothing was going to budge Rensselaer Central from its game plan Friday.
Though Twin Lakes defended RCHS’s offense well — holding the hosts to a first-half touchdown on four offensive possessions — the Bombers came out of the locker room at halftime a more determined bunch in capturing a 30-0 Hoosier Conference victory at the Harrison Sports Complex.
Bottom line: the offensive line needed to execute better.
“We had a lot of inexcusable mistakes. Our coaches made it clear in the locker room what we did and what needed to be fixed,” Bomber senior wing back Kelton Hesson said of the adjustment. “All around, they (linemen) were just missing blocks; not knowing what they’re supposed to do when they really know what they’re supposed to do.”
Bombers coach Chris Meeks said it boiled down to communication issues.
“Tonight, we mixed it up a little bit and are trying to get more guys going one way, so (freshman) Bryan Camarena got his first start of offense at right tackle,” he said. “Regardless, we didn’t do a good job of communicating across the board.
“At halftime, that was a point of emphasis. Offensive line coach (Adam) Lyons talked with them and talked about some of the things (Indians defensive) coach (Steve) Snyder was presenting us. We were leaving guys unblocked in the first half. The second half, we did what we needed to do. That’s the way we need to play. Pound the ball, mix some play-action pass in, strong defense, strong special teams. If we do that, that’s a key to success for us.”
It was classic, smash-mouth football from Rensselaer’s first possession of the second half. The Bombers engineered a 15-play scoring drive that featured nary a pass play. It was 100% ground attack, with senior running back Dalton Kidd doing much of the heavy lifting with a dash of Hesson thrown in.
Kidd had a pair of double-digit runs of 16 and 11 yards during the drive, which included mostly smaller runs of one to seven yards. Finally on play 15 with 4:32 left in the third period, Kidd crashed into the Indians’ defense for a 1-yard touchdown run to give his team a two-touchdown lead.
Junior Cohen Craig’s kick gave RCHS (3-0, 1-0 in the HC) a 14-0 lead in its homecoming contest.
“That was the key,” Meeks said of his team’s second-half start. “(The Indians) went into the locker room with a whole lot of momentum. Our kids felt we didn’t play to our potential in the first half. To our kids credit, I felt like they regrouped at halftime, came out and re-established ourselves. We took over at the 20-yard line and put together a beautiful Bomber drive down the field. Very methodical. Very physical. To me, that was the key to the game. We re-established the game at that point with the tempo and felt like we were in control.”
The Bombers would score two more times in the second half, including a Kidd 32-yard scamper for a score with 10:33 left in the game. Hesson’s 2-point run gave Rensselaer a 22-0 lead.
The Bombers took immediate control of the ball seconds later after Craig banged the ball off an Indian player on his kick-off. The ball caromed hard into a slew of Bomber players, with Luke Janek recovering the loose ball.
Rensselaer needed just six plays on its final scoring drive of the night, getting a 31-yard run from Hesson with 7:52 left to put the Bombers ahead 28-0. Senior quarterback Tate Drone’s 2-point pass to Logan Kuiper accounted for the final points of the night.
The Bombers had 348 yards on 56 running plays against Twin Lakes, which lost for the third straight game to fall to 1-3 overall. Kidd, one of the conference’s leading rushers, had 188 yards on 29 carries with three touchdowns and Hesson added 119 yards on 13 carries with a score.
Hesson also caught seven passes for 65 yards, with many of his catches keeping scoring drives alive for his team.
“He’s a weapon running the ball. He’s a weapon receiving the ball. And he’s a weapon on special teams,” Meeks said of Hesson, a three-year starter. “He’s an intricate part of our offense. He’s a go-to type guy, and he relishes that. He loves to be the guy.”
The Indians kept pace in the first half with RCHS by plugging gaps with bodies, particularly senior lineman Brandon Franscoviak. The only touchdown in the first half came Rensselaer’s second possession in the first quarter when Kidd capped an 11-play drive with an 8-yard TD run.
Hesson had 44 rushing yards and Kidd added 38 during a drive that ate up over five minutes.
The Bombers had two other first-half drives that featured eight and 11 plays, but the Indians’ defense stopped both scoring threats. “Our defensive line played outstanding,” said Indians coach Kevin Sayler. “Brandon Franscoviak and Kayvion Jackson have been our bell cows up there all year. Ethan Bowsman at insider linebacker and Kaeden Dishon at outside backer made a lot plays along with Carson Kelley. Those guys played their butts off.”
The Indians had three turnovers and a change of possession on a kick-off, with junior quarterback Jaden Franceshina throwing a pair of interceptions. Both ball found the hands of sophomore Aaron Barko.
Twin Lakes also had a fumble on its first possession of the second half when it appeared it was heading in for a score.
“We put ourselves in position to be in the game and just couldn’t find a way to get it done,” Sayler said. “That’s something we’ve got to clean up.”
Still, Sayler saw some positives in his team’s play. It was the Indians’ third straight game against a ranked opponent.
“Last week (against Tipton), we let one mistake kind of snowball, but this week we didn’t do that,” the second-year coach said. “We played a lot harder. We’ve played three good football teams in a row in two, three and four-A. We’ve just got to be a little more consistent in our run game and pass game. We’ve just got to finish drives. That’s the bottom line. We move the ball a whole bunch tonight and we find a way not to finish the drive. That’s something that’s got to get fixed.”
Franceshina completed 6 of 18 passes for 69 yards. Junior teammate Jacob Oliver gained 93 yards on 22 carries and the Indians had 142 rushing yards as a team.
“They have some weapons, but I thought we did a nice job defending them,” Meeks said. “Barko, in particular, had a nice game. Last week, he struggled in the secondary. He took that to heart and had a great week of practice. He had a great game tonight. If I had to guess, watching their play-calling in the second half, Barko was somebody they were going to attack and he responded.”
Rensselaer’s defense was led by freshman Corbin Mathew, who had nine tackles with a tackle for loss. Barko had five tackles to go with his two picks.
The Bombers will travel to conference leader West Lafayette next week. The Red Devils are off to a 4-0 start, including a 43-7 shellacking of Lafayette Central Catholic on Friday night.
“It’s an opportunity. They’ll be heavy favorites,” Meeks said of the match-up. “We played them very tough last year and lost in double overtime. The key is don’t get into a tempo game with them where they dictate the tempo for 48 minutes. We’ve got to control the clock and do the things we do well. Stay away from turnovers and get first downs. Grind it and anything can happen.”
The Indians will return home to play winless Benton Central (0-2) for their homecoming. The Bison haven’t played in two weeks due to COVID issues with other teams.