JOHNSBURG — It didn’t matter who carried the ball for the Rochelle Hub varsity football team Friday evening, when the purple and white rolled through Johnsburg and demolished the Skyhawk defense for one of the strongest single-game offensive performances in school history.
Behind a dominant showing from the offensive line and an extraordinary individual effort from senior tailback Garrett Gensler, who rushed for a season-high 362 yards and five touchdowns, Rochelle’s offense exploded for 687 total yards in a 60-35 road win over Johnsburg. The Hubs, who recorded nine rushing touchdowns on Friday, are 3-0 to start the season for the first time since 2013. Rochelle will host Harvard for another conference game next Friday at 7 p.m.
“I couldn’t have done any of that without my offensive line,” Gensler said. “My running backs and my quarterback were blocking for me and they were getting the job done tonight. When we’re able to toss the ball outside, we get our big guys going downhill. Landon [Mickley] is an absolute beast and Kaiden [Morris] kicks out and does an awesome job leading me through the hole. It feels really good to start 3-0. The team’s excited, but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves.”
The Hubs (3-0, 1-0 Interstate 8/Kishwaukee River Blue) needed only three plays to get on the scoreboard early in the first quarter, with Gensler taking a toss off the right side of the line and sprinting downfield for a 40-yard touchdown. Johnsburg fumbled the ensuing kickoff and junior Riley Damask was quick to recover the ball, allowing Rochelle’s offense to retake the field.
Two solid runs from senior wingback Trey Taft and senior fullback Cody Cullum marched the Hubs into the red zone, where Cullum scored on a 5-yard rush to give his team a 14-0 lead. Midway through the first quarter, Rochelle forced the first of four turnovers on downs by the Skyhawks in the game. The Hubs capitalized soon after, with Cullum following his interior linemen, including senior center John Green, through the middle for a 64-yard touchdown.
“We’re continuing to fight and play hard,” Green said. “Our pad level has been the key for us over the last few weeks. Our pads were too high and we weren’t getting any movement on the line during the first week, but we’ve cleaned that up and our backs are running for as long as they want to. We’re keeping everyone in check and we’re continuing to move forward.”
Trailing 20-0 after the first quarter, Johnsburg looked for any sort of spark on offense, but three consecutive completions in Rochelle territory resulted in another turnover on downs. With the Skyhawks unable to stop the outside toss, Gensler broke off two runs of 40-plus yards on the next possession, scoring on a 44-yard touchdown run before adding the 2-point conversion on the same outside toss play, following sophomore guard Kaiden Morris into the end zone.
“We’ve been working all summer for us,” Morris said. “Our toss was working so well tonight because everyone was scooping on the back side, we blocked really well and Garrett was running hard. We’re trusting each other, we’re never giving up and we’re going to keep pushing.”
Despite a second-quarter interception from Cullum, Johnsburg forced a fumble and avoided the shutout late in the second quarter, when running back Jake Metze escaped the Hub defense for a 58-yard touchdown run. A back-and-forth sequence near the end of the second quarter saw Gensler race down the Skyhawk sideline for a 40-yard touchdown run before Johnsburg quarterback AJ Bravieri found Metze for a 32-yard touchdown pass as the first half ended.
Bravieri started heating up for the Skyhawks in the second half, where they trailed the Hubs 35-14 before the sophomore quarterback launched a 46-yard touchdown pass over the middle to wide receiver Ian Boal. Johnsburg nearly earned the ball back after a slew of penalties stalled the ensuing Rochelle drive, but the Skyhawks were once again no match for Gensler, who broke off a 70-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-15 to keep the Hubs ahead by three touchdowns.
Another Gensler touchdown rush late in the third quarter, this time from 40 yards out after Johnsburg’s third turnover on downs, extended Rochelle’s lead to 48-20 entering the fourth quarter, where sophomore Erich Metzger shined with two touchdown runs of 65 yards and 41 yards. The Skyhawks scored twice in the fourth quarter, with Metze running in a 2-yard touchdown and Bravieri connecting with wide receiver Braden Olson for an 18-yard touchdown.
Metzger finished with 123 rushing yards on five carries, while Cullum and Taft combined for 168 rushing yards on 18 carries. Gensler totaled a team-high eight tackles for the Hubs, who averaged 15.7 yards per carry in the win. Junior linebacker Brock Metzger finished with six tackles, while Erich Metzger and sophomore corner Xavier Villalobos each added five tackles.