Football: Morton outlasts Rochelle in nonconference battle

Junior Carson Lewis looks to pass during the Rochelle Hub varsity football game against Morton on Friday. Lewis threw for 141 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-26 loss. (Photo by Russell Hodges)

Lewis tosses two touchdown passes, Villalobos eclipses 100 rushing yards in 27-26 loss

ROCHELLE — The Rochelle Hub varsity football team scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the purple and white attempted to rally from a second-half deficit against Morton on Friday night.

Junior tailback Grant Gensler reached the end zone on a 1-yard plunge and junior quarterback Carson Lewis fired a 17-yard touchdown strike to senior receiver Tommy Tourdot as the Hubs sought to avoid their first loss of the season. While Rochelle managed to stop the Potters late in the fourth quarter, a deep ball on the ensuing Hub drive resulted in an interception that allowed Morton to seal a 27-26 win. Rochelle (1-1, 0-0 I-8/KRC Blue) will host Johnsburg next Friday.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our kids to learn and grow,” head coach Kyle Kissack said. “I’m confident that our kids will come back ready to go on Monday… I thought Carson made some nice plays and I think he’s one of many who still needs opportunities to grow and get better. We had some situations tonight that I think he and a lot of our kids will grow from. Football’s a great game because it requires 11 guys on every snap for us to have a successful play. This will be a long weekend for our kids and we have to learn from games like this.”

The Hubs took the ball to start the game and moved down the field despite losing junior fullback Erich Metzger to an injury during the opening drive. Sophomore Roman Villalobos stepped up to lead the backfield, taking the ball for an 11-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter to give Rochelle a 6-0 lead. Villalobos rushed 16 times for a team-high 111 yards in the game.

Rochelle held Morton to a three-and-out on its opening drive, but the Potters (2-0) answered with a defensive stand of their own, notching a third-and-15 sack that forced a Hub punt early in the second quarter. Morton capitalized on the first play of its ensuing drive, with quarterback Jude Hart hitting wide receiver Julian Alexander on a screen pass for a 57-yard touchdown.

The Potters held a 7-6 lead after the extra point, but Morton would not score for the remainder of the first half, as the Hubs eventually regained the lead on a 28-yard touchdown throw from Lewis to junior wingback Ethan Goodwin. A 44-yard run up the middle from Villalobos led to the touchdown pass from Lewis, who completed 8-of-15 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Rochelle forced a fumble on Morton’s next drive to retake possession.

“I thought the eye discipline of our kids during the first half was great,” Kissack said. “We had some pressure put on us in the second half and we started to react instead of responding to what was going on in front of us. It comes down to our kids finding ways to stay dialed in on each snap, no matter what down it is or what the circumstances are. We need to make sure our eyes are in the right spot and that we’re reading our keys and playing the right technique.”

Rochelle led the Potters 12-7 at halftime, but Morton scored on its opening possession of the third quarter, surging ahead after running back Bret Michel capped off a five-play, 65-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. A fourth-down stop by the Potters led to an 80-yard touchdown rush from running back Seandon Buffington, who led all players with 181 rushing yards. 

Trailing 20-12 midway through the third quarter, Rochelle manufactured its lengthiest drive of the evening, moving the ball 76 yards on 14 plays and eating over nine minutes of game clock before scoring on Gensler’s 1-yard touchdown run. The Hubs were unable to convert the 2-point play and finished the game 1-for-4 on 2-point conversion attempts. With Rochelle unable to tie the game, Morton responded immediately, scoring on a 58-yard touchdown run from Buffington.

Down 27-18 and needing yards quickly, Rochelle attacked the Potter defense through the air, with Lewis completing multiple passes including a 15-yarder to senior receiver Cayden Moore and a 10-yarder to Tourdot on fourth down. After Lewis and Tourdot connected for the 17-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone, senior tight end Brock Metzger made a big-time reception for the 2-point conversion, diving for a catch near the back line of the end zone.

The Hubs had one final chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, but a deep pass for junior receiver Elijah Harley was intercepted by Michel to clinch the victory for the Potters. Gensler finished with 88 rushing yards on 14 carries for the Rochelle offense, while Metzger totaled a team-leading seven tackles and added a 41-yard reception early in the game.