ROCHESTER – There was hype surrounding the matchup between Whitko and Rochester all week leading up to Friday night. There was plenty at stake as both team’s stepped on to Barnhart Field with 5-0 marks in the Three Rivers Conference but only one team could leave with bragging rights and sole control of first place.
In the end it was the home team that came to play as the Zebras would gash Whitko for 261 rushing yards to claim a 56-14 win over the visiting Wildcats.
Several key plays in the first half left Whitko in a dire situation heading into the locker room. After falling behind 7-0, the Wildcats found themselves with a chance to tie the game up but were stopped on fourth and goal-to-go inside the Zebra five-yard line late in the first quarter. The stop by Rochester would prove to be huge as the Zebras would open up a 21-0 lead following two more scores in the second quarter, including a 73-yard touchdown pass from John Hunting to J. Heckathorn.
Whitko finally managed to get on the scoreboard with just 19 seconds remaining in the first half. Tanner Hughes gave the Wildcats the score on a four-yard rumble. A missed extra point left Whitko down 21-6. The Wildcats were set to get the ball to start the second half, so the score before the half seemed big. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Heckathorn was not done with his first half highlights.
The speedy senior took the ensuing kickoff 77 yards to the house with just seven seconds remaining to give Rochester all the momentum back along with a 29-6 halftime lead following a two-point conversion.
“It was awesome,” Rochester head coach Mike Zehner said of Heckathorn’s return. “I really didn’t think anyone would kick to him again after what he had done this year already. He’s just electric.”
Whitko’s head coach Josh Mohr did not find much to talk about that was “awesome” focusing mainly on the struggle his team had trying to regain momentum throughout the night.
“They (Rochester) attacked all night,” Mohr began. “In the first half, mainly the first quarter and a half, we did not do our end of it. We told the kids all week that you have to attack and control the line of scrimmage and we did not get that done. We had a couple of mistakes and Rochester gained momentum and just never let it go.”
There was a small sign of life from Whitko to start the second half as the Wildcats had a two-play drive that ended with a 37-yard touchdown run by Hughes. Trace Killian converted a two-point conversion to make the score 29-14. Hughes finished his night leading Whitko with 194 yards.
Hughes was excellent yet again for the Wildcats but it was Rochester’s star rusher that stole the show. Jacob Howdeshell led all rushers with 198 yards on the ground and three scores. Howdeshell looked unstoppable at times as he broke tackle after tackle for big gains. The senior averaged over nine yards a carry Friday night.
Rochester would score through the air, on the ground, on special teams and even on defense. Brett Abbott returned an Elder interception 50 yards to highlight the second half for Rochester and to put an exclamation mark on a completely dominating performance.
Rochester (7-1, 6-0) will look to wrap up a perfect TRC record next weekend at North Miami while Whitko (5-3, 5-1) hopes to get back to its winning ways when it travels to Akron to take on rival Tippecanoe Valley.