MONTICELLO — Rensselaer Central was far from flawless against host Twin Lakes Friday, but it still put forth a dominant effort to pick up its sixth straight win in its series with the Indians.
The Bombers (3-1) scored three second-half touchdowns to build on a 14-7 halftime lead and cruise to a 34-7 win in their Hoosier Conference West Division opener.
The Indians (1-3) had their homecoming game spoiled by RCHS, which had 420 total yards on offense while holding Twin Lakes to 187. The Indians’ lone score came on a 43-yard sweep play by running back Jacob Oliver in the second quarter to draw his team within a score at 14-7.
The score was set up by an interception of a Corbin Mathew pass by Twin Lakes defensive back Caleb Turner. The Indians needed just two plays to get into the end zone, scoring with 2:32 left in the first half.
Rensselaer nearly added to its score despite getting the ball with 2:26 left until halftime. A 22-yard pass play from Mathew to Aaron Barko placed the Bombers at midfield. After an 18-yard run by Kadyn Rowland, Mathew picked up six yards to get his team deeper into Indians territory.
Mathew was sacked to set up a third-and-12 from the 21, but he got seven yards back on a pass to Rowland. With the Bombers staring at a fourth-and-5 from the 14 with under 18 seconds left and no timeouts left, RCHS coach Chris Meeks sent out his field goal unit. But Rowland took the snap on a fake and rumbled to the Indians’ 1-yard line with 6.1 seconds left.
A fumbled exchange, however, kept Rensselaer from scoring and it was content to take a 14-7 lead into the locker room.
The Bombers opened the game with a 10-play, 63-yard scoring drive. Rowland scored the first of his three touchdowns from 12 yards out with 7:59 left in the first quarter.
After an Indians scoring drive stalled on Rensselaer’s side of the ball, the Bombers took over at their own 17-yard line and manufactured an 8-play, 83-yard scoring drive for a 14-0 lead. Rowland’s 33-yard run on the first play of the drive kickstarted the offense. A Mathew pass to Diego Hernandez-Reyes of 18 yards put the Bombers into Twin Lakes’ side of the field.
The drive would culminate with a 3-yard touchdown run by Rowland with 8.3 seconds showing in the first.
Rensselaer had a third potential scoring drive stall out near midfield, but an interception of Gavin Businger’s pass by Kadyne Doyle gave the Bombers another shot. Turner, however, would pick off Mathew’s pass on the first play from scrimmage to set up his team lone score.
The Indians received the second-half kickoff, but couldn’t get the ball out of their side of the field to set up an insurance score for the Bombers.
“We didn’t execute at times; made some mistakes,” Indians coach Kevin Sayler said. “We had a couple drives where we moved the football and then it would stall out. Some of that is guys just need to step up and make a play. We’re dinged in some spots and we’ve got guys in some spots. It’s got to be next man up, do your job and make some plays.”
Rensselaer used a 4-play, 63-yard drive to essentially put the game on ice. The biggest play came on a Mathew 43-yard pass to Rowland down the middle of the field for a touchdown at the 7:03 mark. Carter Drone’s third point-after kick of the night gave RCHS a 21-7 lead.
“We talked at halftime, we did many, many good things offensively, but we had just two touchdowns to show for it,” Meeks said. “We’re playing a lot of young kids and new faces, so it’s a growing experience. Last week, in that same situation at halftime (vs. Hamilton Heights), we didn’t handle adversity well. I thought tonight we did. We made some plays. They decided to put 11 guys in the box. We have to make them pay. First half we didn’t; second half we did. I was really pleased with how we played in the second half.”
Mathew would pass for another score in the fourth quarter, connecting with Hernandez-Reyes from 22 yards out with 9:06 left for a 28-7 lead. It capped a 6-play, 64-yard drive for the Bombers, who got a 1-yard TD run late in the game from Rowland for the game’s final score.
Mathew had his most productive passing game in just his fourth start, completing 7 of 10 passes for 143 yards and two scores. He did throw two interceptions.
Rowland, who was held under 50 yards in a loss to Hamilton Heights last week, racked up 170 yards on 22 carries with three touchdowns against the Indians. Mathew also gained 67 rushing yards on nine carries.
“One of the things we need to do with him,” said Meeks, “and we did a better job of it tonight, is have him run the ball and be a threat running. By him being a threat running, that should open things up in the passing game.”
Defensively, Trenton Simmons had nine tackles and an interception and Adam Ahler also had nine tackles with a sack. Doyle had nine tackles with a pick, Avery Reyes had seven tackles, including five solos, and Jordan Cree added six tackles with five solos.
“I think second half, we tightened things down with their running game better than we did the first half,” Meeks said of his defense. “The first half, we weren’t happy with the way they were running the ball and moving chains. Their time of possession was the same as us in the first half. We did a better job shutting down the run in the second half.”
Oliver had 23 carries for 138 yards and a score for Twin Lakes, while Businger was held to 10 of 26 passing for 25 yards and two interceptions. Saige Brandt had 33 rushing yards despite getting just nine touches due to an ankle injury.
“When we stopped running the ball effectively in the third quarter, that’s when things got away from us,” Sayler said. “We made some adjustments in the fourth quarter and slowed them down a little bit better, but it was a little too late.”
The Indians came into the game down three starters on the offensive line. Those players are close to coming back, which should bolster the running game.
“Rensselaer’s good up front. That’s their strength. But for a while there, I thought we matched it,” Sayler said. “We did a good job. We just couldn’t do it all night. Kudos to them. They won the battle up front.”
Outside of stalled drives in the third period, Sayler was pleased with how his team performed in three of the games four quarters.
“We’ve played better each week,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep that trend. We didn’t have many turnovers tonight. Just a couple. We’ve caused more turnovers this year. Last year, we caused just six turnovers for the season. Tonight, we came into the game where we caused 10. We’ve gotten better in some areas. We just need to finish drives.”
The Indians will look to snap their two-game skid when they travel to league foe Benton Central (2-2) next Friday. The Bombers, meanwhile, will host West Lafayette (4-0), which is one of the favorites to hoist a 3A sectional championship later this fall.
“A great opportunity playing the No. 1 team in the state,” Meeks said of the challenge. “If Chatard loses to Cathedral tonight, which they probably will (Cathedral won 38-0 Friday), they’ll be the No. 1 team in the state, and what more can you ask for? All you can do is go out and compete and let’s see what happens. Two years ago, it was a double-overtime game. It will be a great challenge, but let’s play.”