INDEPENDENCE — Ben Hemer suspected something was going to be different Friday night.
Waverly-Shell Rock’s senior running back says his conditioning in practice this week consisted of rep after rep within the center of a wing-T formation the Go-Hawks had only used in a couple goal line situations during games.
Hemer’s physical running, stellar offensive line play and execution from defense to special teams allowed Waverly-Shell Rock to clear one major hurdle on the path to securing a playoff berth by handing Independence its first district loss, 27-0, at Leinbaugh Field.
Parkersburg native and Waverly-Shell Rock coach Mark Hubbard returned to his wing-T roots on the opening drive as Hemer rushed seven consecutive carries between the tackles before quarterback Luke Velky took a snap from the pistol formation and bounced 15 yards off a fake to complete an identity-establishing 10-play, 65-yard march.
Hemer finished with 157 yards and a touchdown and on 31 carries, while Velky added a 45-yard rush off a fake for back-to-back, first-half touchdowns and 95 yards rushing.
“Why stop doing something if it’s working?” Hemer pointed out, addressing the physical statement his team made. “We kept rolling with it. He (Hubbard) told me he planned on running that wing-T right away and hammering it down the middle. I had a little bit of an idea, but I didn’t know it was going to be on that magnitude.”
Hubbard used shotgun spread with some more wing-T mixed into a multiple-formation offense throughout the remainder of the game as the Go-Hawks dominated time of possession and kept Independence’s potent, quick-strike offense off the field.
“Independence has been playing a couple different defensive fronts,” Hubbard said. “We just wanted to come out balanced and give our running backs a few more gaps to run to and see if we could maybe change the tempo or pace a little bit because it’s something we haven’t done a ton of this year.”
W-SR’s offensive line certainly added to Hemer’s comfort on this night. Jeremy Chaplin handled a transition to center while Caleb Siech created plenty of space up the middle and Chase Carpenter sealed a block on the edge for Hemer’s longest run of 35 yards that led to a two-yard TD on the opening drive of the second half.
“That’s probably my favorite kind of running, running it straight up the middle,” Hemer said. “At the beginning of the season I didn’t like it as much, but I’ve grown to love it.”
An elated Hubbard told his team afterward, “This is what happens when you go to work.”
W-SR (7-1, 3-1 district) was just as dominant on defense. Independence ran just 13 plays for 28 yards and one first down in the first half, and Nebraska recruit Mosai Newsom returned an interception 53 yards to set up the first of two Dawson Bathke field goals.
Newsom’s pick came after offsetting penalties negated a 30-yard touchdown reception by Independence’s Sean Geertsma on the Mustangs’ first drive of the second half.
“Outside linebacker is a new spot for me so I’m still kind of learning. It was fun,” Newsom said. “Everyone flew around, everyone played hard. Our linebackers filled like crazy. Our d-line did their job, our dbs did a great job.”
For Independence (6-2, 3-1), it was a night when breaks proved hard to come by. An official ruled Velky down prior to a fumble on W-SR’s first drive of the third quarter that was extended on a missed tackle off a slant route and later a pass interference call before Hemer’s big run.
Mustangs’ coach Justin Putz knows his team can respond. They did it with three straight wins after an earlier mistake-plagued loss to Center Point-Urbana.
A win next week at Decorah would still give Independence a district title and playoff berth following back-to-back losing seasons.
“We’re a really tough group,” Putz said. “If you walk us and a lot of teams through the airport, I don’t think you’re going to pick us too often. But we’re a tough, scrappy team, ton of juniors. They know what’s on the line in terms of a district title. It’s a win and you’re in situation next week.”
After praising his team’s play in all three phases, Hubbard knows the Go-Hawks also can’t afford to let up.
“When we dropped that game to Decorah, we knew it was a one-game season every week and it’s no different next week,” Hubbard said. “We’ve got a one-game season with Charles City and we need to get back to work.”
Waverly-Shell Rock 27, Independence 0
Waverly-SR 14 0 10 3 — 27
Independence 0 0 0 0 — 0
WSR — Luke Velky 15 run (Dawson Bathke kick)
WSR — Velky 45 run (Bathke kick)
WSR — Ben Hemer 2 run (Bathke kick)
WSR — FG Bathke 33
WSR — FG Bathke 36
First downs 19 7
Rushes-yards 53-283 22-90
Comp-att-int 4-8-0 6-13-2
Passing yards 48 42
Punts-avg 0-0 4-38.25
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 7-70 4-45
WAVERLY-SHELL ROCK — Ben Hemer 31-157, Luke Velky 15-95, Kaden Dewey 5-24, Ian Heise 2-7.
INDEPENDENCE — Logan Schmitt 14-54, Kaleb Lamphier 4-28, Ethan Holt 4-8.
WAVERLY-SHELL ROCK — Velky 4-8-0, 48 yards.
INDEPENDENCE — Schmitt 6-13-2, 42 yards.
WAVERLY-SHELL ROCK — Heise 1-19, Mosai Newsom 1-14, Tyler McNally 1-8, Kaden Dewey 1-7.
INDEPENDENCE — Lamphier 2-18, Blake Bartz 2-16, Sean Geertsema 1-5, Tristan Cordes 1-3.