WEST LAFAYETTE - Harrison's offensive line graduated two starters from last year, one of them a 6-foot-5, 270-pounder.
And somehow the Raiders got bigger, badder and better than ever up front.
"There’s no question it is the biggest and best offensive line I’ve had since I’ve been here," said Harrison coach Terry Peebles, now in his ninth season.
The Raiders have used that to their advantage all season, especially last week where the offensive line imposed its will against Lafayette Jeff for a second straight season.
The end result was 5.8 yards per carry on 44 totes, led by quarterback Ben Henderson's 135 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
The offensive line has succeeded in a renovated offensive system more reliant on run-pass option plays and lots of movement from the backs to try to lure the defense away from the play. In all that, the line schemes have been simplified.
"It really helped us when they changed the offense. Just RPOs and run blocking is simple for us to understand and helps us be better as players," senior center Joseph Chase said. "(Beating Lafayette Jeff) really proved that we can do a lot against any defense anyone throws at us."
Chase is 6-3 and 315 pounds. To his left is guard Isaiah Halladay who, at 6-1 and 245 pounds, is the "small guy" of the front five. At left tackle, 6-3, 285-pound Bricker Crum.
"Last year we were all really tall and this year I think we are a lot bigger," Crum said. "Maybe not with the height, but with the weight, we are maintaining the same size."
Part of that is utilizing 6-1, 325-pound sophomore Jaime Chavez at right guard and right tackle CJ Zeltwanger now at 6-5 and 300 pounds.
But Harrison's success is more about skill and strength than it is mass.
"I know I am a big guy, but being a big guy doesn’t matter if you can’t move your feet and you can’t block," said Zeltwanger, a probable Division I prospect fresh off unofficial visits to Indiana and Purdue. "Since I’ve started playing football, I’ve always been about fundamentals, getting my hands inside and driving my feet. All of that kind of transferred over and once I got to this size, I just am now a force."
The unit as a whole is a force that has led Harrison to five straight victories and into a top-five ranking in Class 5A while averaging nearly 400 yards per game.
Factor in, too, that Harrison uses 6-4 Jake Walters at tight end and has one of the best blockers on its team, Ethan Popp, in the backfield.
Harrison had success moving the ball in its only loss, the season opener against West Lafayette at Lucas Oil Stadium, but was done in by four turnovers. That's an area that was cleaned up last week at Lafayette Jeff in a victory that put the Raiders in the driver's seat to repeat as North Central Conference champions.
"One of the things we kept in mind when we did change the offense is we wanted to keep it as simple as we could for the offensive linemen," Peebles said. "We probably have less blocking schemes this year than what we did last year, but there’s a lot more eye candy in the backfield, formations so on and so forth. They haven’t had to learn as much so they’ve been able to focus on the fundamentals of getting off the ball."
Sam King covers sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.
Tech (1-5) at Harrison (5-1)
Time: 7 p.m.
Sagarin ratings: Tech 44, Harrison 79.56
Series history: Harrison has won two of three meetings, winning the last two by a combined 54-0.
About Tech: The Titans average 20.7 points and allow 28.3 per game. ... Tech scored 22 total points in its first three games and has averaged 34 points in its last three games. ... The Titans have had just one winning season since 2012, going 6-5 last year. ... Stat leaders - Passing: Malachi Allen (14-31, 274 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT). ... Rushing: Ivionte Campbell (62 car., 282 yards, 1 TD). ... Receiving: Desean Walls (13 rec., 197 yards, 1 TD). ... Tackles: Laqua Roar (22), Jason Nunu Johnson (21). ... Interceptions: Nunu Johnson (1), Jonathan Brewer (1), Elijah Jones (1).
About Harrison: The Raiders average 35.2 points and allow 14.8. ... Harrison is ranked fifth in the Class 5A coaches poll and sixth in the Associated Press poll. ... The Raiders are averaging 44.5 points in North Central Conference games since the start of the 2019 season. ... Stat leaders - Passing: Ben Henderson (66-94, 882 yards, 9 TD, 3 INT). ... Rushing: Henderson (85 car., 555 yards, 12 TD), Carter Knoy (53 car., 380 yards, 2 TD), Ethan Popp (56 car., 369 yards, 1 TD). ... Receiving: Carter McDonald (21 rec., 302 yards, 2 TD), Jake Walters (16 rec., 250 yards, 4 TD). ... Tackles: Brayden Conklin (31), Josh McKelvin (30). ... Sacks: Boone Munn (2). ... Interceptions: Gavin Goodwin (2), Sammy Hallada (1), Gavin Halsema (1), Collin Farrell (1). ... Kicking: Alex Stene (24-25 PAT, 5-5 FG, long of 37).
Coach Peebles' take: "Tech has some scary players. Defensively, they play fast and play hard and they will definitely hit you. They have struggled a little bit on offense and special teams with some mistakes. We have to play our game and athlete to athlete we should be alright as long as we are focused and ready to play."
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: IHSAA Football: Size, strength of offensive line powers Harrison offense