For three weeks, Indian River High School senior football captain and offensive tackle Steve Alesi hasn’t played, after suffering a slight Type 2 tear of his medial collateral ligament in a pre-season scrimmage against Milford.
But on Sept. 23 he made his 2006 regular-season debut, playing a little over a half in a 44-0 drubbing over Washington High School (Princess Anne).
Washington High (0-3) marked Indian River’s last non-conference game of the regular season and with that said, head coach Jim Bunting and his coaching staff felt confident that it would be a good game to get Alesi back in the swing of things.
“This was a nice game to get him back,” Bunting said. “It was nice to put him in a game where it’s not on the line.
“He looked a little tentative on his first couple plays but as the game went on got more and more confident,” Bunting continued.
Alesi noted feeling no discomfort while hunched in his stance or firing out into opposing defenders. His recent recovery, along with the rest of his fellow offensive linemen, opened the way for the 13 Indian River running backs to gain more than 200 total yards (211, to be precise) of real estate and four rushing touchdowns.
Indian River hit Washington High early and often, starting with the very first Jaguar offensive possession. Defensive-lineman-turned-linebacker Phillip Townsend sacked the Jaguar quarterback deep in their territory, which eventually led to a safety and a 2-0 advantage. Following a 20-yard return by Isaiah Phillips, Townsend took Indian River’s very first play from scrimmage 40 yards and went untouched for the touchdown on the counter to the back side.
After failing to get a first down, having only one play go for positive yardage (a 4-yard run) in their first two offensive possessions and trading fumbles, Washington High tried to move Indian River off the line of scrimmage by passing the ball. But the Indians were able to apply pressure and forced the Jaguars into their second of three turnovers in the game.
Indians defensive end Tarrez Cheers smacked their frantic quarterback from the back side as he rolled to his throwing side and the hit forced the ball up softly into the hands of an awaiting Zack Kmetz, who returned the interception from his outside linebacker position 13 yards for the Indians’ second score. The game clock had only been running for a little less than four minutes (8:16).
Phillips, like the rest of his fellow running backs, didn’t have many opportunities to carry the ball but made sure to punch it in the end zone when he could. He scored two touchdowns (4 and 5 yards) on only four carries, for a grand total of 18 yards. That was after totaling 211 yards and two touchdowns (scored both in the 20-14 win over Cape Henlopen) on 36 carries in the first two weeks.
Dominique Morris had squelched Stephen Decatur for a 64-yard touchdown and maintained his burner status against Washington by reaching the edges for 46 yards on only three carries.
With senior fullback and captain Perry Townsend out of the lineup due to a shoulder injury, sophomores Cody Cooke and Kmetz filled in and did a good job. Cooke had the most carries on the team with five and ran for 31 yards, while Kmetz rattled off a bit more, totaling 41 yards on three carries, and scored his second touchdown of the game on a 27-yard scamper for the Indians’ final score.
“The Washington game gave us an opportunity to see some things and the boys executed well,” Bunting said. “The all did a great job, but with Cody and Zack — they’re only an injury a way from being a starter. We try to tell these kids to push our varsity starters because we have to have them ready to go [come game time].”
Indian River’s special teams unit continued their high level of play with a senior kicker Pierson Roenke converting on all six of points-after attempts and junior Jacob Balasus returning a punt 65 yards, marking the Indians’ fourth touchdown in the first quarter.
The Indians’ passing game was equally successful and all three of their quarterbacks saw time. Junior starting quarterback Nick Kmetz and freshman reserve Justin Rines both completed all of their passes (3-3 and 2-2) for a total 86 yards passing.
They may find it a bit more difficult to pass, however, in the upcoming game against Woodbridge and free safety Jordan Wescott.
Last year, Indian River held Wescott to only 42 rushing yards on 16 carries and Woodbridge’s offense to less than 100 yards in a 21-14 Indians win. But Wescott could disrupt the Indians’ offense this year.
“Wescott’s the heart and soul of that team,” Alesi said. “He’s a [Troy] Polamulu [free safety for the Pittsburg Steelers] type of player. He runs around trying to do everything. But if we play Indian River football and play with our pads then we’ll be fine.”
Indian River will host Woodbridge Sept. 29 for a 7 p.m. kickoff.