Smooth strikes propel Raiders onward

Photos by Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
As teammate Brett Nordhoff hoisted him in the air, Southridge’s Cody Thompson flipped the football to the referee after grabbing a touchdown reception during Friday’s first-quarter scoring binge at Raider Field in Huntingburg. Forest Park answered Southridge’s first touchdown of the night, but the Raiders racked up 34 points in the opening quarter and sprinted past the Rangers 54-7. A gallery of photos from the game can be found here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Aidan Michel has faith in his quarterback. OK, that’s an understatement.

In fact, Southridge’s senior fullback believes so deeply in Luke Stetter that he’s willing to hand over the offense entirely to the junior play-caller.

Sorry, Brad Ohanian.

“No offense to Coach Ohanian, our offensive coordinator, but he could run the offense if he wanted to,” Michel boldly kidded about Stetter.

Aidan Michel to the coaches’ office, please.

“I’m willing to take the punishment,” Michel said with a grin.

Stetter

Perhaps more apt would be a distribution of praise between all parties, especially considering how healthily the Raiders balanced their attack Friday night in Huntingburg. In their 54-7 sprint past Pocket Athletic Conference foe Forest Park, the Raiders performed a three-prong incision of sorts — by air, ground and special teams speed — to carve open a game that held promise for the visiting Rangers, if only for a fleeting moment.

Catalysts arrived in brisk abundance for the hosts. For the second time in three games, Raider junior Connor Craig tabbed three touchdowns by three distinct methods — a 98-yard kickoff return, a 46-yard reception and a 22-yard run — all in the first quarter. Senior running back Alex Householder collected a pair of scores on the ground. Michel busted into the endzone for another, the Raiders’ first of the night. Later on, Guadalupe Perez churned 65 yards to cap Southridge’s eight-touchdown display.

Then there was Stetter.

“He’s not one of the guys that’s going to yell at you, degrade you or anything. He’s always going to build you up,” Michel said. “He’s constantly helping receivers. He knows everything on the entire field that’s going on. He’s a super smart guy. Constantly changing stuff up. He can lead an offense.”

And with efficiency.

Stetter connected on all four passes he threw to compile 167 yards. The throws were diverse: a play-action toss some 20 yards up the middle to Craig, a quick hitch to the outside to Cody Thompson, a 19-yard gun tucked between two defenders to Beau Schneider and a quarter-field lobbed touch pass down the sideline to Thompson again.

Most importantly, Stetter’s performance typified efficiency, Southridge coach Scott Buening said.

“It’s been an emphasis for us that we need to get him in a rhythm,” Buening said.

“And really, it was nice tonight because I saw it all come together.”

For a few moments, the game provided punch and counterpunch. After Michel busted into the endzone from 3 yards out on the Raiders’ first possession, the Rangers responded with their own ground gusto. Noah Braunecker (13 carries, 42 yards) and Josh Voegerl (six carries, 63 yards) each took a handoff to bring Forest Park to Southridge’s 37-yard line. On the ensuing play, Voegerl skirted a defender with a nifty spin move before jetting outside the hashmarks and downfield to even the score at 7.

Yet Forest Park (0-3, 0-2), which surrendered four scoring plays of 30 yards or more last week against Perry Central, again found difficulty in damage control, and big plays once again maimed any notion of a rally.

First came Craig’s 98-yard kickoff return, a mere 14 seconds after Voegerl’s scoring scamper. Craig then reeled in a play-action pass from Stetter beyond the Ranger secondary for a 46-yard touchdown. Less than two minutes later, Stetter gunned a 10-yard pass to Thompson on a hitch route to the left. The senior looped to the outside and dashed up the sideline for a 37-yard catch-and-run score. With Craig’s third touchdown of the first quarter — a 22-yard scamper with eight second remaining in the opening stanza — the Raiders (2-1, 1-0) capped a seven-minute, 27-point scoring salvo.

Southridge’s Andy Fischer grabbed a handful of jersey trying to bring down Forest Park’s Noah Braunecker, who totaled 42 rushing yards on 13 carries.

“I’m not sure why they are happening,” Ranger coach Ross Fuhs said of the big plays. “Guys are calling out who they have and they can’t cover them. It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for them, it’s frustrating for me, but eventually they’re going to have to start taking some things we do in practice and take them into the game. You know, practices don’t look bad, but what we do in practice never gets carried over into the game.”

What did translate progressively from the practice field was the Rangers’ revamped kick return unit, namely the galloping runs by Tyler Henke, who ran four kickoffs beyond the Forest Park 38-yard line, including one to the 45 and another to midfield.

“That’s something we worked a lot on this week,” Fuhs said of the returns. “Guys have to block guys. Football is three parts. You’ve got offense, defense and special teams. And that can win you a game or lose you a game. That was a lot better tonight.

“That was definitely the bright spot of the game.”

As for Southridge, its committee of rushers collaborated for 278 yards on the ground, led by five backs with at least 30 yards — Perez (68 yards), Craig (53), Householder (48), Jacob Mundy (35) and Mitchell Mundy (32). Thompson accrued 94 yards on his pair of catches, including a grab on a hitch route he crafted into a 37-yard score. The latter catch came within inches of being another score, as Thompson looked in Stetter’s arcing pass and tiptoed the sideline before stepping out briefly at the 9-yard line.

For all the offensive production, Michel emphasized the role the offensive line played in the 445-yard offensive showing. The Raider offense went without a play resulting in negative yardage and no defender came close to sandwiching Stetter.

“We’ve got a huge line with (Ethan) Schwoeppe and (Alex) Merkel leading the way,” Michel said. “Everybody thought we were going to be small (this season), but we can push the ball on anybody. We can move it. That’s really what has surprised me the most.”

Less surprising, to both Michel and Buening, was the Raiders’ response after their seven-point setback to county rival Jasper.

“We needed a game like last week,” Buening said of the loss. “And then to try and come back after an emotional, long night, long game, we had Labor Day this week — I thought we did a good job of handling a lot of distractions. We came out, we established ourselves early, I didn’t feel like we had any layover effect or anything like that.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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