Humble Raider not just an accessory

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Southridge quarterback Luke Stetter, center, hoisted his helmet in celebration after the Raiders finished off a three-point win over Tell City last month. Like many Raider signal-callers before him, Stetter has embraced the subtle role the quarterback plays in the Raider offense. Still, he’s become a threat as the junior has thrown nine touchdown passes this season against just one interception.

Herald Sports Writer

Southridge football is a birthright for young boys in Huntingburg. That was no different for Luke Stetter, the Raiders’ two-year starting quarterback who watched his brother, Mitch, steer the Raiders in 1997 and ’98.

Even then, running around in backyards accompanied by his friends Connor Craig and Byrce Harter, the team’s feature running back and left guard, respectively, Stetter was piecing together his future team.

“I was friends with all these guys when I was little,” the junior explained. “I would be like, ”˜Well, Connor’s going to be the running back and Bryce, he’s big, he’s going to be a lineman. I guess I can be the quarterback.’”

Stetter is being humble, but modesty is one of the better attributes for a quarterback at Southridge. There are no such things as gaudy passing numbers in an offense predicated on brutish blocking and shifty tailbacks. The quarterback can appear to be nothing more than a glorified fullback, but dismissing Stetter and his role on the team is a steep mistake, one he’ll make you pay for faster than you can say “Connor Craig 60-yard touchdown reception.”

Stetter is a skinny 6-foot, 160 pounds. He won’t be intimidating opposing linebackers anytime soon, which is fine, because Stetter has been silently picking apart defenses all season. The two-man running back combo of Craig and Alex Householder receives a fair portion of attention, but after seven games, Stetter has thrown nine touchdowns to just one interception. His touchdown total is just three behind Jasper quarterback Nolan Ahrens, though Ahrens has attempted more than double the amount of passes Stetter has. At 599 yards this season on 27 completions, Stetter is averaging a whopping 22.2 yards per completion and, based on his touchdown-to-completion ratio, is tossing touchdowns once every three passes. He surpassed his 2012 yardage total of 371 yards total in the season’s first three games.

“It’s been a lot of big plays,” Raider coach Scott Buening said. “It’s been efficiency. We’ve run the ball well, which obviously helps the pass game. We’ve protected much better this year and ... we’ve got a decision-maker. ... We trust (Luke) when we pass. That’s the other thing about Luke, he’s extremely accurate. I would say half or more of his incompletions have been drops, to be honest with you.”

Stetter — the accuracy champion at this summer’s popular Bishop Dullaghan football camp at Hanover College — and his rate of 428 passing yards through three games has slowed slightly since Southridge’s win against Forest Park on Sept. 6, but only because the margin of victory in that span has ballooned to 32 points a game. Buening admits that he would like to pass the ball more and said the coaches even game-plan during the week to feature a good number of pass plays, but he said the games as of late haven’t translated into that style of play. But it’s comforting for Buening to know that when he does need to chuck the ball, he’s got supreme confidence in his man under center.

That has been extremely evident in the Raiders’ two closest games — a seven-point loss to Jasper and a three-point win against Tell City. Against the Wildcats, down 21-7 at half, Stetter threw 23 passes, almost double his next-highest attempt total, and threw touchdowns of 63 and 16 yards. He amassed 167 yards, tied for his highest total of the season, and had the Raiders threatening late in the fourth quarter before a final drive sputtered out around midfield. And against Tell City two weeks ago, Southridge needed two more touchdowns — this time for 33 and 37 yards — to seal a 24-21 win.

“You look at our big games, when we’ve needed to put up throwing numbers for 100 or more yards, he’s been very efficient,” Buening said. “Ultimately we’re going to do what we think we have to do to win a football game, but we also know to go where we want to go and reach our goals, we need that part. But we’re very confident that if we need it as we go throughout the season, (passing is) going to be a big part of our offense.”

“Growing up, I always knew that Raider football was known for running the ball,” Stetter said. “So I didn’t really expect to throw it 25 times a game, but it’s nice whenever we do. Usually when you don’t have to pass that much it means you’re playing well.”

But as impressive as the pass plays have been at times, Buening said that a Southridge quarterback’s drop-back ability is one of several attributes needed to helm a complicated offense. In fact, it’s not even in the top three.

“(Having a good arm is) probably trait No. 5 that we really care about,” Buening said. “We need somebody with some moxie. Somebody who understands football. Somebody who, when the lights come on, thrives in that situation. Those are the things we look for, and Luke’s got those.”

Harter calls Stetter “a natural leader.” When things aren’t going right, Stetter is the first one to slap you on the helmet and say you’re doing fine, to say, “Forget about it. Next play.”

“He’ll get on their butt a little bit if they need it, but he’s also the first one if things aren’t going right, he’ll pull guys together,” Buening said. “He just brings that calm. ... And that’s the temperament of our offense, and it comes from the quarterback.”

Class 3A No. 3 Gibson Southern looms ahead in a potential regular-season finale between undefeated teams in Pocket Athletic Conference play. First, the Raiders will entertain Pike Central on Friday in Huntingburg. Expect a heavy dosage of Craig and Householder, but don’t sleep on the quarterback. Buening certainly won’t.

“Do we know how important he is to us?” he asked. “Yes. We absolutely do.”

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