SYCAMORE — The Rochelle Hub varsity football team did its best to contain the undefeated Sycamore Spartans when the two Interstate 8 Conference foes squared off Friday night.
Despite conceding two passing touchdowns in the first half, Rochelle remained within striking distance, trailing Sycamore 13-0 at halftime. But the Hubs were unable to move the ball frequently enough, with the Spartans capitalizing on a series of turnovers-on-downs as Sycamore went on to win 33-7. Rochelle (1-4) will host Ottawa for Senior Night next Friday.
“I thought we played really well in the first half,” head coach Kyle Kissack said. “We went toe-to-toe with the best team in the conference early on and we only gave up two big plays. They came out and got after us in the second half and we couldn’t find any rhythm. It was a story of two halves for us, but I thought our kids played exceptionally well in the first half tonight.”
Rochelle stopped the Spartans on two running plays to open the game before Sycamore quarterback Eli Meier launched a 55-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Ben Herrmann for the first strike of the evening. The Hubs erased nearly seven minutes from the game clock on their first possession, but a fourth-and-1 rushing attempt was stopped short by a few inches.
Capitalizing on the change of possession, Sycamore went ahead by two scores when Meier connected with wide receiver Xavier Gagnepain on a 29-yard touchdown pass, once again over the middle of the Rochelle defense. Both teams were unable to score in the second quarter, with Hub senior lineman Ethan Albers and Sycamore’s Dawson Alexander each intercepting a pass from the opposing team’s quarterback during the final minutes before halftime.
Rochelle received the ball to start the third quarter, but another turnover on downs sparked a Sycamore scoring drive, with Nathaniel Altepeter running in an 8-yard touchdown to put the Spartans ahead 19-0. Needing an offensive spark, Rochelle looked to pass the ball on its next drive, but Sycamore safety Bailey Wiegmann intercepted Hub quarterback Josh Lloyd. The turnover led to another Spartan touchdown, with Meier keeping the ball on a 1-yard plunge.
“We need to finish,” Kissack said. “We talked with our seniors about how fortunate we are to have a season. It’s all about finishing for us and we want to finish for the seniors. Our younger kids are doing everything they can for our senior class, but they need to get better too. There are a lot of things we can accomplish this coming week and I think the kids understand that.”
A Rochelle fumble early in the fourth quarter set the Spartans up in Hub territory, and Sycamore didn’t hesitate to score again, with Meier tossing a 14-yard touchdown pass to Kaden Ladas near the left pylon of the north end zone. Rochelle avoided the shutout late in the fourth quarter, leaning on sophomore running back Garrett Gensler, who broke through the right side of the Sycamore defensive line for a 34-yard touchdown run with about two minutes left.
Gensler led the Hubs with 70 rushing yards in the game, while junior Braden Alfano totaled a team-high six tackles. Senior Ben Harvey finished with five tackles and 33 rushing yards.