RENSSELAER — Rebuilding is no longer something West Lafayette does anymore. Instead, the Red Devils just reload.
Despite missing some of the state’s top playmakers from a 9-3 squad of a year ago, many of whom were on the 15-0 Class 3A state championship team of 2018, the Red Devils simply plug holes with players with similar skills.
This year, coach Shane Fry moved Colin Martin from a back-up quarterback role to starter, which has gone seamless. Martin has thrown for 761 yards, completing 69 of 107 passes with three touchdowns.
He’s also rushed for three scores.
Brice Rider, meanwhile, is the new primary back, totaling 387 yards and five scores, and teammate Max Mullis is a recent addition to the backfield. He has five scores with just under 300 yards.
Cannon Melchi has caught 36 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns also.
“They’re typical West Lafayette,” Bombers coach Chris Meeks said. “They have nice skill athletes. They like to get the ball out in space. They do seem to be running the ball more this year.
“Defensively, they play downhill. They held a very good Lafayette Jeff team to 20-something points, which is impressive. They are a very good football team.”
The No. 4 ranked Red Devils (3-1) also possess Division I lineman Dandre Douglas, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 330 pounds. Defensive standout Mariere Omonode is another Division I talent at 6-1, 250.
Look for the Bombers to run the ball away from Westside’s defensive strengths.
“Offensively, we’ve got to do what we do and do it well,” Meeks said. “We have to run the ball effectively, mix some play-action pass in, no turnovers and move the chains. We’ve got to convert our third downs, eat up some clock and not have any turnovers or penalties.”
The Bombers (2-2) did just that in a 38-0 rout of Munster last week, though the Mustangs’ talent level falls well short of Westside’s. They have to play flawless this week.
“I thought our running game was very good last week, especially our power game,” Meeks added. “We mixed in some play-action passes here and there and we have a good special teams unit that’s starting to find its own.”
The Bombers have rushed for over 1,000 yards as a team on 168 running plays. Dylan Kidd, a junior, is the leading rusher with 345 yards and five touchdowns. Senior Addison Wilmington has 321 yards and five scores.
Senior kicker Luke Dixon powered through his first field goal of the season, a 44-yarder in the second half. He just missed a 42-yarder in the first half.
Rensselaer was able to bottle up the Mustangs’ dual-threat quarterback last week and must do the same this week against Martin and company.
“Defensively, we’ve got to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage,” Meeks said. “We can’t be flat-footed against their offense. We’ve got to attack the line of scrimmage. We have to attack the quarterback. This is a kid that likes to tuck and run like all of their quarterbacks in the past. We’ve got to keep him bottled up, but we have to be very aggressive at the line of scrimmage. We can’t just sit back and let them nickel and dime us all night long.”
Creating turnovers would also benefit the Bombers, who have just four turnovers — all fumble recoveries — on the season.
“They’re just not going to cough the ball up. We have to create turnovers and we do that by pressuring the line of scrimmage,” Meeks said. “If we get after them and make them uncomfortable, hopefully we do get a couple of turnovers. That could be the difference in a game like this.”
What Meeks and his staff really want to see is continued improvement with a young squad. The Bombers started three sophomores on the defensive front last week as they continue to find the right mix of players.
“I thought our kids did a not job attacking last week, which we didn’t do the first couple of games,” Meeks said. “I think we’re finding ourselves and we’re starting to get into a groove. We just got to keep playing better and better, and I think we’ve done that from week one to week four.”
The Bombers have sophomore linemen Ayden Randolph and Jordan Cree on both sides of the ball and moved junior Lakin Webb into a starting linebacker spot alongside sophomore Chaz Mullins.
All four players enjoyed solid games against Munster.
“We’re not playing very many seniors. We don’t have many seniors,” Meeks said. “We’ve got a nice mixture of young kids with some good sophomores, a nice junior group and we mix a few seniors in there. So, there was a lot of learning about ourselves that didn’t get to happen in June and July. I think we’re playing a whole lot different now than we did in week one.
“We just got to get these kids some chemistry and continuity playing together. I think we saw that last week.”
The Red Devils own a five-game win streak in the series against the Bombers, who last beat Westside during their Class 2A championship run of 2014.
West Lafayette used a big second half to turn away a gritty Bombers squad a year ago, winning 44-6, though it was much closer than that at halftime.
“Last year, we had a chance to go ahead at halftime. We had it third and goal from the 3 and had a penalty and ended up not scoring, which killed us,” said Meeks, whose teams are 8-13 in 21 meetings against Westside. “We also pooched kick in the first half where it looked like we got the ball and West Lafayette ended up getting it on an inadvertent whistle. The turnaround was the onside kick. They scored to start the second half and then they on-side kicked it and got the ball. That just opened the flood gates. We were right in that game. I thought we were playing at our style, which we have to do to be effective. You can’t get in a track meet with them.”