Banking on a defense that at all three levels didn’t give up any big plays and made several huge ones, Chesterton pitched its third shutout of the season, this one at the expense of Lake Central, 21-0 at home Friday night.
Up front, Devin Sain chased the quarterback down the line and produced a strip-sack fumble. On a special-teams play, lineman Jordan Hughes picked up an errant punt snap and looked to be on his way to his second fumble-return touchdown of the season until being tripped up by one of his blockers.
In the middle, Keegan Wrigley intercepted a pass for the second week in a row and third time this season. Gage DeMarco and Matt McCracken repeatedly made tackles in the backfield, and senior reserve Duke Schaller rewarded his coach’s decision to give him the most playing time of his career with a big night.
In the back, Brant Westphal intercepted a pass for the second consecutive week, and Dane Snemis did strong work as a blitzer batting down a pass and as a run-stopper all night.
It added up to another dominant night from coordinator John Snyder’s defense, which has not been scored upon in 10 consecutive quarters: the second half vs. Valparaiso, followed by back-to-back shutouts of Portage and Lake Central. Crown Point visits Chesterton on Friday night to face a defense that has allowed 7.14 points per game.
As for what Chesterton’s offense will look like from week to week, that’s not as predictable.
A prolific passing machine triggered by talented, experienced quarterback Chris Mullen early in the season, the Trojans have suffered from excessive dropped passes in recent weeks. Conversely, a running game that sputtered early behind an offensive line with four new starters, is on the incline.
For the first time, Mullen did not throw a touchdown pass. He has 17 this season and just one interception.
In a big script-flip from the norm, Chesterton rushed for 190 yards and threw for 73 yards.
“It’s never like that,” junior Ethan Troy said.
Sophomore running back Garrett Lewis put the Trojans on the board early in the first quarter with a 55- yard touchdown run along the right sideline. In the second half, Troy scored on runs of 17 and 31 yards, and just might have left a bruise with a vicious stiff arm he planted on a defender who otherwise would have tackled him. The original plan called for Troy, “hobbled a little lately,” according to Peterson, to play limited action. He did not play at all against Portage. When Lewis left the game with an arm injury late in the first half, Troy’s role expanded.
“Being able to put that together is going to be a key component for us these last two conference games and certainly getting ready for the postseason, we’ve got to be able to put them (run game and pass game) together,” Peterson said.
Running games start with blocks, regardless of whether it’s Troy or Garrett carrying the football.
“We’ve had a young and inexperienced group up front,” Peterson said. “They’re not young anymore. They’re not inexperienced, so I think that’s kind of some of the progression of our growth, and our development.”
Troy traced the strong rushing attack in the second half to high-volume inspiration delivered at halftime by offensive line coach Luke Eliser.
“I’ve never heard him yell like that,” Troy said. “He was going crazy.” It worked.
“I didn’t play much the first half, but when I did play a little bit, there was nothing there,” Troy said. “Second half, there were holes on holes. … If we could get a run game on (top of) our passing, with our defense, we could be awesome.”
The defense that started the season in bend-but-don’t break mode, doesn’t even bend anymore and is starting to put the ball on the tee for the offense with multiple turnovers.
The most impressive was delivered by Sain, a former cornerback playing defensive end and still running with the burst of a defensive back. He used it running horizontally behind the line to catch quarterback Luke Neidy from behind to force a fumble and then recovered it.
“I saw the play coming and I read it right, so I shook the ball, and once I shook it, I crawled into it,” Sain said. “I played that right.”
An experienced defensive coaching staff is showing the Trojans what to expect and how to react, and the players are executing the instructions better by the week.