ROCHELLE — Resiliency was the theme for Rochelle football players throughout the 2019 season, and Friday’s double-overtime thriller against the Ottawa Pirates was the ultimate test for a young team with only eight seniors.
Down their starting quarterback as well as three running backs, three linebackers and one linemen, the Hubs refused to let their season end in defeat. Armed with a next-man-up mentality, the Rochelle football team escaped Ottawa with a win, and head coach Kyle Kissack was proud of how his players battled through difficult situations all season.
“What I thought was really neat about Friday night was that the next kid stepped up and performed well under pressure,” Kissack said. “We talk all the time about how pressure is a privilege, and as a young athlete, sometimes you can fold when you’re put in situations where there’s a lot of pressure. I was really proud of their effort Friday night and I thought their effort spoke to the type of kids we have in our program right now.”
Rochelle finished 4-5 overall and 3-4 in its first run as an Interstate 8 Conference member. Senior Gavin Ansteth carried the load for the Hubs offensively, rushing for a team-high 720 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Senior Austin Greifenkamp totaled five touchdowns on nearly 300 yards of offense, while senior quarterback Ethan Etes threw for 213 yards and added 58 rushing yards and one touchdown.
Juniors Ben Harvey (456 rushing yards and two touchdowns) and Gabe Neece (three touchdowns) will be carrying the rock next season, while sophomores Eric Briseno, Owen Angell and Cam Ajazi are likely to step up after combining for over 400 rushing yards and three touchdowns this fall.
“We threw a lot at the kids this year,” Kissack said. “I felt like we needed to do some different things with our formations and those things can be difficult at times. I thought the kids handled that well and I think we ran the ball really well. Our kids up front adjusted throughout the season and they did a nice job with in-game adjustments.”
Senior Keegan Davis-Carter led the Rochelle defense with 38 tackles. The Hubs finished with seven interceptions including three from Etes and two from senior Nick Albers, who added 32 tackles, two fumble recoveries and two sacks. Senior Charlie Jandak had two sacks, and Jandak is the only senior graduating from the Rochelle defensive line.
Junior Ethan Albers headlines Rochelle’s returning players after recording 35 tackles and a team-high 4.5 sacks this fall. Junior Noah Messer also recovered two fumbles this season, and sophomore Braden Alfano stepped up with two sacks and one forced fumble. Junior Michael Schlenbecker had 1.5 sacks for the Hubs this fall.
“I was really proud of our defense this season,” Kissack said. “Our defense played really well, and of the two groups, it was definitely the more experienced of the two groups. We had two sophomores and three juniors on the inside of our defense by the end of the season, and I thought our identity was being relentless to the football. I think our younger kids proved that this year.”