ROCHELLE — Kevin Crandall likened the 2017 Rochelle varsity football team to his 2011 group earlier this season, and it’s no surprise that this year’s squad has kept pace with the team that reached the quarterfinals six years ago.
After rolling past No. 9 seed Chicago (Agricultural Science) roughly two weeks ago, the No. 8 seeded Hubs pulled off the biggest upset in the IHSA Class 4A Playoffs so far, taking down undefeated No. 1 seed Johnsburg 35-16 on the road this past Saturday at Johnsburg High School. Rochelle (8-3) played nearly flawless football to avenge a 40-22 loss against the Skyhawks back in September.
The Hubs have won four straight games, and they will have another chance at revenge when they face No. 5 seed Morris this Saturday at 2 p.m. The Redskins slipped past Rochelle on Sept. 15, defeating the Hubs 34-30. The quarterfinal game will be played at Morris High School.
“I thought that we had the potential to be an awfully good football team if we worked hard,” Crandall said. “I think the kids are excited about the opportunity. They know they didn’t play as well as they could’ve the first time and I think they’re hungry to keep playing.”
Rochelle hasn’t sent a football team to the state semifinals since 2002, but the Hubs are looking to change their fortunes against a Redskins squad that cruised through the first two rounds of playoff action this fall. Morris (9-2) topped No. 12 seed Kewanee 50-20 before crushing No. 13 seed Ridgewood 62-7 this past weekend.
Rochelle and Morris have combined for 216 points this postseason, and much like their first encounter earlier this year, Saturday’s matchup could once again be an offensive shootout. The Hubs recorded 474 yards of offense including 351 rushing yards.
Seniors Alex Harvey (136 yards on 17 carries) and Ehren Metzger (131 yards on 17 carries) had plenty of room to run, while senior Noah Mershon added 123 passing yards and one touchdown to junior Noah Knight, who caught three balls for 79 yards.
“We scored on just about every possession,” Crandall said. “We had one drive killed by a penalty and we missed one open receiver on fourth down… We just can’t make those mistakes. Consistently moving the ball and scoring on those drives will be huge.”
On the other side, Morris racked up 350 total yards behind running back Austin Hatcher, who rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns to headline the Redskin offense. Mitchell Mayberry went 15-for-24 on pass attempts, throwing for 176 yards including a 53-yard touchdown strike to Hatcher.
Rochelle came within 1 yard of taking the lead over Morris in the fourth quarter of their first matchup. Knight ran the ball to the Morris 1-yard line on second down, but a fumble on the next play and a turnover on downs stopped the Hubs’ best scoring chance of the evening. The Redskins took 7:29 off the clock before giving Rochelle possession at its own 25-yard line with 1:04 to go.
The Hubs moved the ball to the Morris 36-yard line, but Rochelle simply ran out of time. This time around, Crandall is confident that his defense will step up after forcing four turnovers and holding a powerful Johnsburg offense to a season-low 16 points.
“I don’t think we have to do anything different,” Crandall said. “We just have to play better. We didn’t change the game plan much against Johnsburg, we just went back and looked at the mistakes we don’t typically make. Hopefully it’ll be the same thing on Saturday.”