JOHNSBURG – It may be easy to predict, but it’s incredibly difficult to stop Rochelle. Just ask Johnsburg.
The Skyhawks had two opportunities against the Hubs this season and couldn’t slow down Rochelle in either one, the second being a 34-22 Rochelle victory Friday in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.
Unlike the first meeting – a 60-35 Hubs thumper back in Week 3 – 15th-seeded Johnsburg protected against the big play and managed to hang within one possession most of the game. Still, Rochelle found a different poison, this one being a slow barrage of third-down conversions to bleed the Skyhawks dry and put Rochelle into the quarterfinals. Rochelle (9-2, 4-1 Interstate 8/Kishwaukee River Blue) totaled 342 total yards of offense, all on the ground, and were an impressive 10-for-11 on third down while never punting.
“That’s just the deal. If we are able to execute and clean things up and staying on or ahead of schedule, then it’s a tough offense to stop,” said Rochelle coach Kyle Kissack. “We can sit on the ball and like in the first quarter eat up eight minutes. But that only happens if you are staying ahead of schedule.”
The Hubs served notice of that very quickly. They took the opening possession 79 yards on 13 plays, the last being an 11-yard touchdown run by Erich Metzger. The drive ate up nearly seven minutes of clock time and made it 8-0. Metzger was the driving force to the ground attack on the night, amassing 158 yards on 25 carries.
However, a Johnsburg team that made a strong late-season push to reach the playoffs, showed it was a different team from that first meeting and answered each early Rochelle punch. Facing fourth and 14 on his first possession, Johnsburg quarterback A.J. Bravieri dropped a dime to Jake Metze just over the hands of a defender for a 35-yard touchdown, tying the score with 3:51 to go in the first period.
Bravieri would do the same thing again in the second quarter, connecting with Braden Olson for a 20-yard score to actually give the Skyhawks (6-5, 2-3 Interstate 8/Kishwaukee River Blue) a 16-14 advantage with 3:51 to go in the half.
“They played with heart tonight,” said Johnsburg coach Sam Lesniak. “They battled to the last snap, and you could see it in their eyes. There was a mentality going into the game. They wanted to make sure they did everything they could to give themselves a chance. That was a physical game there.”
Metzger led that attack with 158 yards rushing while Garrett Gensler had 95 yards and two scores. Rochelle answered right before the half with a big 35-yard chunk play from Metzger before its defense added a huge fourth-down stop in the third period. The offense then went back to work, going 64 yards in 10 plays. A 12-yard scoring run by Trey Taft (12 carries, 89 yards) made it 28-16 with 2:51 to go in the third quarter.
Still, Johnsburg made one final push early in the fourth as a four-yard touchdown run by Jake Metze pulled the Skyhawks within 28-22 with 6:52 to play. However, the ensuing onside kick failed, and Rochelle scored eight plays later on Garrett Gensler’s second touchdown of the day to all but lock up the contest.
Johnsburg’s Bravieri was highly limited in the second half and finished only 16-of-27 for 180 yards after passing for 141 yards in the first half. Aidan Rodriguez and Tommy Tourdot each picked off passes for the Hubs while Brock Metzger had 12 tackles. Xavier Villalobos had two tackles for loss.
With the win, Rochelle guaranteed this season will feature the most wins by a Hubs team in a single season since the 2004 squad won nine games. But as Kissack said, it’s not about matching history, it’s about making history.
“We have talked a lot to the kids this year about being history-makers, not history-takers,” he said. “The history of Rochelle football and the tradition of Rochelle football, it’s long. There’s a lot there. We’ve talked to the kids about don’t take from past groups success. Make your own. It’s been a focus of ours really since about Week four or five. And the kids have really leaned into the idea.”