ROCHELLE — The Hub defense stood strong against a formidable Morris offense when the Rochelle varsity football team kicked off its shortened spring season Saturday afternoon.
Rochelle finished with nine tackles for loss in the Interstate 8 Conference opener, but three fumbles on offense doomed the Hubs, who ultimately fell to the Redskins 27-13. Senior linebacker Gabe Neece shined on defense for Rochelle, leading the Hubs with nine total tackles, including three for losses, while adding an interception in the fourth quarter.
“I thought our defense played really well despite some of the tough spots our offense put the defense in,” head coach Kyle Kissack said. “They really buckled down and made some red-zone stops today. We’re pretty athletic on defense and we’re happy with how well our inside-six kids are defending the run. We have two athletic kids on the outside and our inside linebackers were a highlight today. I thought Gabe played really well for us today.”
Morris scored on its second play from scrimmage early in the first quarter, when running back John Landers broke through the middle of the Hub defense for a 63-yard touchdown, the longest offensive play for either team. Rochelle responded in traditional Hub fashion, however, chewing up eight minutes of clock and tying the game on a 19-yard touchdown run from junior Eric Briseno. The score capped off a 16-play, 88-yard drive late in the first quarter.
The Redskins gave Rochelle a taste of its own medicine in the second quarter, compiling a 14-play, 63-yard drive over roughly four minutes that resulted in a 15-yard touchdown throw to Landers from quarterback Zach Romak. Both teams fumbled away possessions midway through the second quarter, with senior Ethan Albers recovering one for the Hub defense.
“We didn’t play well offensively today,” Kissack said. “We cannot turn the football over in this league and with three fumbles, one of them coming right out of halftime, those are difficult turnovers to overcome. We have our work cut out for us offensively and we need to get better this coming week, clean up our mistakes and be physical for our next game coming up.”
Rochelle fumbled on its first play of the second half, but the Hub defense held Morris to a 29-yard field goal to make it a 17-7 game. After punting on its next possession, Rochelle stood tall on defense once again, rallying behind defensive linemen Noah Messer and Braden Alfano, who combined for 10 tackles including five tackles for loss. Morris made a second field goal near the end of the third quarter, connecting from 23 yards to make the score 20-7.
Needing a touchdown to stay within striking distance, Rochelle fumbled a third possession away to the Redskins, who capitalized on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Romak to Nate Jepson midway through the fourth quarter. Senior Ben Harvey, who led the Hubs with 52 rushing yards, plowed forward for a 1-yard touchdown on Rochelle’s final possession late in the fourth quarter.
Senior safety Crue Larsen finished with nine tackles for the Hubs, while Albers recorded eight tackles and Harvey added seven. Alfano notched Rochelle’s lone sack in the game. The Hubs (0-1) will continue their six-game conference schedule at LaSalle-Peru on March 27 at 1 p.m.