LASALLE — Rochelle and LaSalle-Peru combined for six touchdowns and 41 points during the third quarter of Friday night’s Northern Illinois Big 12 West battle between the Hubs and the Cavaliers.
Rochelle stymied the LaSalle-Peru offense early, holding the Cavaliers to six first-half points before LaSalle-Peru adjusted and found its rhythm in the passing game. The Rochelle offense rolled LaSalle-Peru from its first offensive snap, however, and the Hubs rode their strong start to a 55-33 victory over the Cavaliers to improve to 3-2 and 2-0 in NIB-12 West competition.
“It all started with the offensive line,” said senior Brandon Johnson, who recorded 82 rushing yards and one touchdown. “Everybody was blocking well and we were gap-sound. We were picking up their guys on the slants and making the right blocks. We’re a lot more focused and we’ve realized that we need to start picking it up or else we weren’t going to win any games.”
The Hubs forced LaSalle-Peru to punt on its opening possession before Rochelle scored on its first play from scrimmage. Johnson broke through the right side for a 64-yard touchdown rush to help give Rochelle a 7-0 lead, and after stopping LaSalle-Peru’s fake punt attempt, the Hubs added to their lead when senior Noah Knight rushed 18 yards for a touchdown off the left side. Rochelle ended the first quarter leading 14-0.
“I can’t do anything without my guys up front,” said Knight, who totaled 166 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the win. “They did all the work for me and I just ran the ball. We normally start off well but we need to learn how to finish. We started well tonight but we weren’t able to play with the same mentality in the second half.”
The Hubs forced their first turnover when senior Eddie Villalobos intercepted LaSalle-Peru quarterback Jakob Kupperschmid with 9:55 in the second quarter. Knight ran 23 yards for his second score of the game with 1:10 to play in the half, but the Cavaliers struck back when Kupperschmid tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Gaige Noonan.
Villalobos blocked the point-after attempt, and after a solid kickoff return by Villalobos, Knight rushed for a 10-yard score with 2.3 seconds remaining in the first half. Rochelle entered the locker room up 28-6, and the offensive outburst between both teams near the end of the half set the tone for a second-half shootout.
“Being physical is just what Rochelle football is,” senior lineman James Hart said. “We know we can usually win football games when we’re being physical… We were reading our keys since they were running option plays a lot, but we need to make adjustments at halftime and we can’t quit. We need to keep putting the pressure on them.”
Rochelle received the ball to start the third quarter, and Knight ran 47 yards for his fourth touchdown to help put the Hubs ahead 35-6. The Cavaliers answered with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Kupperschmid to Devon Poggi, who had 130 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the game.
Villalobos returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for another Rochelle touchdown, but the Cavaliers bounced back once again when Kupperschmid kept the ball and ran 27 yards for a touchdown. The Hubs led 41-19 with 3:55 in the third quarter before Villalobos turned a failed onside kick by LaSalle-Peru into a 45-yard touchdown scamper. Kupperschmid and Poggi connected again on a 48-yard touchdown pass to continue the shootout.
The Hubs held a 48-27 lead entering the fourth quarter before the Kupperschmid-Poggi combination struck again, this time for 23 yards through the air. A pair of Rochelle turnovers helped LaSalle-Peru gain more possessions on offense, but Knight halted one possession with an interception at the 3:28 mark in the fourth quarter.
Villalobos, who totaled 102 rushing yards and two scores on the ground, turned Knight’s forced turnover into points with a 30-yard touchdown rush at the 1:15 mark in the final quarter. Senior Louie Mancinas intercepted Kupperschmid with 21.8 seconds remaining to ice the Rochelle victory.
Senior Larry Beck led the defense with eight tackles while Knight added four tackles. Seniors Edwin Vega and Luis Silva each had three tackles. The Hubs will host Yorkville for Homecoming on Friday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m.
The Rochelle sophomore football team lost 19-0 against LaSalle-Peru to drop to 4-1 on the season. The Hubs will also face Yorkville on Friday.