MAPLE PARK — The Rochelle Hub offense controlled the football for over 40 minutes during Friday’s varsity matchup against the Kaneland Knights. But head coach Kyle Kissack praised the performance of his defense, which held standout running back Corey Phillips to only 19 rushing yards and made key stops in the secondary during in the team’s 43-21 victory on the road. Rochelle improved to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Interstate 8/Kishwaukee River Blue Division.
“I thought our defense won the game tonight,” Kissack said. “We can talk about the offense and how well we played, but I thought our defense won the game tonight because we put pressure on their quarterback, we were there when they wanted to take shots down the field and we forced incompletions. We had our eyes in the right spots and we tackled Phillips well out of the backfield. Our offense played arguably its best football this year, but our defense stepped up.”
Kaneland took the early lead in the first quarter, with quarterback Troyer Carlson finding wide receiver Sam Gagne for a 41-yard touchdown pass. Rochelle answered on its first drive of the game, taking over five minutes off the clock and scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run from junior Garrett Gensler, who finished with a season-high five rushing touchdowns in the win.
The Hubs flipped the script on the Knights during the ensuing kickoff, emerging with a big special teams play after senior Ethan Wells sprinted and collided with a Kaneland returner, sacrificing his body to recover the short kick and give Rochelle the ball again. The Hubs capitalized on the Kaneland mistake, scoring on Gensler’s 2-yard touchdown run.
Leading 14-7 in the second quarter, Rochelle saw its defense make the team’s second game-changing play of the night, with senior Braden Alfano stripping Gagne of the football and junior Cody Stover-Cullum recovering the fumble. The Knight turnover resulted in a long and methodical Hub scoring drive that erased nearly 10 minutes off the clock and resulted in a 21-yard touchdown run from Gensler, who shed multiple Kaneland tacklers on his way.
“We aren’t beating ourselves,” Kissack said. “We had some mistakes earlier this season that were self-inflicted. When that happens and we don’t win first downs, it puts us in a really difficult position. We’ve been winning first downs recently and we have five players who can carry the ball effectively and be a threat on every snap. We’re doing a good job with our communication up front in terms of keeping helmets on helmets and handling stunts.”
Rochelle received the second-half kickoff and moved right down the field, melting seven minutes off the clock and scoring on Gensler’s fourth touchdown run of the night, this time from 2 yards away. The Hub defense stopped Kaneland on its next drive, forcing the Knights to punt before extending their lead once again, with junior Trey Taft busting outside and breaking tackles for a 43-yard touchdown run. Taft finished with a season-high 196 rushing yards.
“We talked after the game about enjoying the win and protecting the team,” Kissack said. “We have to stay humble on Monday and we have to find more ways to get better. Plano’s a good football team and if we talk all next week about how we played tonight, we’ll have problems.”
The Knights went down fighting in the fourth quarter, with Carlson tossing two touchdown passes including a 45-yarder to Johnny Spallasso and a 36-yarder to Gagne. Gensler, who scored his fifth touchdown on a 1-yard rush near the end of the fourth quarter, totaled 68 rushing yards, while Stover-Cullum topped 100 yards for the second straight game, finishing with 106.
The Rochelle Hub fresh-soph football team defeated Kaneland 38-20 on Friday, improving to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Interstate 8/Kishwaukee River Blue with the victory. Freshman Erich Metzger led the offense against the Knights, finishing with 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Freshman Grant Gensler scored the first touchdown of the game to ignite the Rochelle offense. Sophomore Tommy Tourdot totaled five tackles and one rushing touchdown, while freshman Jack Pavlak caught a touchdown pass and recorded six tackles. Freshman Brandyn Metzger led the Hub defense with eight tackles and one tackle for loss.