Football: Randolph ready for Section 2A challenge
With the high school football season winding down and section playoffs looming, teams across the state, who are locked in a playoff position, might look be looking ahead at possible matchups. For the Randolph Rockets, its potential section playoff game already has a particular wrinkle to it: 11-man football.
The Rockets are a 9-man football team and are in the 9-man district but will compete, as the team did last season, in the Section 2A playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, it doesn't have the availability to schedule a game against an 11-man team during the regular season.
"It is tough with district scheduling because there really isn't an opportunity to schedule any 11-man games," Randolph Athletic Director Aaron Soule said. "In other sports like baseball and softball, we compete in Section 4 but our entire conference is in Section 1, but have the luxury of scheduling non-conference games."
Randolph football head coach Mike Schmidt is fully aware of the challenge his team faces having played only 9-man football all season but says there's not as much variance between 9- and 11-man football as people might think.
"There's some technical differences in terms of adding lineman and running the ball," Schmidt said. "The good thing for us is we play tough competition during the regular season."
No. 1-ranked Spring Grove and No. 5-ranked Houston are part of that tough competition. Despite losses to both, Spring Grove and Houston each allowed a season-high 28 and 46 points, respectively, in its games against Randolph. Additionally, Randolph took Houston to double-overtime before losing 54-46.
Yet, those losses don't change how Schmidt sees his team. In his second season as the Rockets head coach, Schmidt said after losing in the first section 2A game last season the team may be missing what other 11-man teams have but aren't hindered by it.
"We'll be playing teams that have better depth than us," Schmidt said. "But we have just as good of conditioning as anyone."
Schmidt added the team has grasped his offensive style, which will help come section play.
"We tried designing the offense to be where we don't have to change much," Schmidt said of the transition from a 9-man to 11-man offense. "We want it to be as smooth as possible come playoffs."
With two games remaining in the regular season, Schmidt anticipates the team will be prepared by then. Most of the game plan revolves around senior quarterback Andrew Wenstrom, who is coming off an eight-touchdown performance last week. Wenstrom, a dual threat quarterback, shoulders much of the load offensively.
"He takes it on in full stride," Schmidt said. "He'll gladly put the team on his back and wouldn't have it any other way."
For Schmidt, there aren't many concerns when it comes to finally playing an 11-man team in sections. His offense, which features a group of playmakers who played last year as juniors, and confidence among those in and around the team won't let 11-man football intimidate them. Schmidt's only concern is injuries.
"We run very few contact drills in practice during the week," Schmidt said. "So we hope to have full health and be full speed at playoffs."
Besides some minor details, the Rockets appear ample and ready to take on whichever 11-man team they'll face in sections. Schmidt said the team learned from last year and is prepared to overcome the mental hurdles of their situation.
Future of the Rockets
The concept of 9-man football, in theory, is to create a competitive football environment for schools with smaller enrollment. The fewer kids enrolled in a school means smaller roster numbers on all athletic activities and with fewer kids playing sports, there's not enough to field an 11-man football team.
That's the case for Randolph, for now.
Schmidt and the team will move into an 11-man conference beginning next year.
"We're finally to a point where we can and will compete with the 1A schools," Schmidt said.