OTTAWA — Gabe Neece had one mission Friday evening, and that was the send the seniors on the Rochelle football team off with one final victory this season. What resulted was one of the wildest and most competitive games in recent history.
Four quarters weren’t enough to decide Friday’s conference battle against the Ottawa Pirates, who were also honoring their seniors. Neece rushed for his first career varsity touchdown during regulation, but the junior saved his two biggest scores for after regulation, running for touchdowns in both the first and second overtime periods to help the Hubs outlast Ottawa 40-34 and finish the season 4-5 overall.
“It felt great to do it for the seniors since it was their last game,” Neece said. “We went out with a bang and it was really exciting to come away with a win. I think the offseason is going to be good for us. We’re going to adapt, learn and come back stronger next year. I just had to do it for the seniors and I wanted them to be happy on their last game.”
The game ended with both teams tied 28-28 entering the first overtime period. Rochelle started with the ball and sophomore Cam Ajazi, who totaled a career-high 122 yards on the ground, picked up 9 yards on the first three plays from scrimmage before Neece went up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown. Ottawa took the ball next and evened the game on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brett Galletti to Briar Naggs.
It looked like the Pirates were about to celebrate a Senior Night victory, but Ottawa kicker Kyle Szewczuk missed the extra-point attempt wide left and Rochelle received new life entering the second overtime period. Ottawa forced the Hubs into another fourth-down situation, but Neece stepped up with another score, this time a 2-yard plunge through the middle to give Rochelle the lead again.
On a night where the Rochelle defense surrendered 273 yards to the Pirates in just 12 minutes and 55 seconds of possession, the Hubs rose to the occasion when they needed to. Senior Austin Greifenkamp nearly intercepted a pass on second down, and after senior Keegan Davis-Carter broke up another attempt on third down, Galletti was left scrambling for options on fourth down before ultimately firing an incompletion down the right sideline to end the game.
“It was a really great experience,” said junior Ethan Albers, who had a team-high 2.5 sacks in the win. “It was my first time playing in an overtime game. We were all relentless and we were trying our hardest to chase the ball… We’re definitely going to have a lot of confidence going into next season because this win meant a lot to us. It was our first overtime game as a team and we stuck together.”
Ottawa stunned Rochelle to start the game, scoring on the first play from scrimmage when Galletti connected with Naggs for an 81-yard passing touchdown. The Hubs responded with a drive that melted nearly eight minutes off the clock, but a turnover on downs at the Ottawa 23-yard line put the Pirates on offense.
They weren’t there for long, however, as senior Ethan Etes intercepted a pass that setup Greifenkamp’s 7-yard rushing touchdown late in the first quarter. Etes found Albers for the 2-point pass to put Rochelle ahead 8-6, but Ottawa countered with a 49-yard rushing touchdown from Damonte Coleman.
Neece gave the Hubs a 14-13 lead with a 1-yard rushing score in the second quarter. Rochelle took the ball to start the third quarter, scoring on a 1-yard touchdown rush by Greifenkamp to lead 20-13 before Nolen Miller tied the game for Ottawa on a 3-yard rushing score in the fourth quarter.
Despite committing eight penalties for 84 yards in the game, Rochelle had its best chance at victory after senior Nick Albers went left on a 10-yard rushing touchdown with 1:40 to play in the fourth quarter. The Pirates shocked the Hubs with their final drive, though, marching 66 yards on seven plays and tying the game with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Galletti to Austin Howard with 5.5 seconds remaining in regulation.