GENESEO — Brandon Johnson entered Friday night’s varsity football game against the Geneseo Maple Leafs without a single pass reception. But Rochelle head coach Kevin Crandall called the junior tailback’s number on a critical fourth-and-2 play at the Geneseo 22-yard line.
With the Hubs leading 14-7 to start the fourth quarter, Johnson caught an out route from senior quarterback Noah Mershon and barreled down the left sideline, flying over a Geneseo defender for a 22-yard touchdown. Johnson’s score sparked a 27-point offensive outburst in the fourth quarter, with the Hubs adding three more touchdowns to seal a 41-7 win over the Maple Leafs.
“It absolutely felt great,” Johnson said. “Coming to Geneseo and beating them how we did, there’s nothing better. I was just trying to catch the ball and when I turned up the field I saw a guy coming for me, so I took a leap for the end zone.”
Rochelle (4-2, 2-0 NIB-12 West) forced the Maple Leafs to punt on their opening possession of the game, and the Hubs jumped on the scoreboard with a 70-yard touchdown drive ending in a 1-yard scoring rush by senior Ehren Metzger, who totaled 98 yards on Friday. Geneseo running back Colton Pischke looked to help the Maple Leafs respond, but Rochelle senior A.J. Saleh had other ideas, ripping the football out of Pischke’s hands and creating the first of three Geneseo turnovers on the night.
“He was going through the hole and he wouldn’t go down,” Saleh said. “I just stuck my arm in and kept pulling at the ball. Eventually I felt it in my hand, and when I went down with it, the ball was ours.”
The Hubs turned their defense into offense, scoring five plays later on a 3-yard touchdown rush by senior Alex Harvey to take a 14-0 lead. Harvey led Rochelle with 110 rushing yards on 20 carries. Both teams punted twice over their final two possessions before time expired in the second quarter.
Geneseo (3-3, 1-2 NIB-12 West) found some momentum at the start of the third quarter, taking advantage of a Rochelle fumble to score its first points of the game on a 7-yard touchdown run by Pischke. The Maple Leafs frustrated the Rochelle offense early in the second half, but Mershon’s touchdown pass to Johnson helped the Hubs find their rhythm in the fourth quarter. The passing touchdown was Mershon’s fifth of the season, and with only one interception this year, his accuracy in the pocket has given the Rochelle offense a significant boost.
“I think I improved as a passer over the offseason,” Mershon said. “I improved my throwing abilities and in reading my routes and my keys… We prepared all week to beat Geneseo at their place and we did it.”
Leading 21-7, the Rochelle special teams unit made its first big play of the night, recovering a muffed punt by Pischke to give the Hubs possession at the Geneseo 8-yard line. Harvey plowed through the line of scrimmage for a 2-yard rushing touchdown to extend Rochelle’s lead, and the Maple Leafs turned the ball over again two played later, with Rochelle junior Eddie Villalobos knocking down a backwards pitch on an option play and taking the ball 8 yards for a score.
But the Hubs weren’t done having fun yet. With a 35-7 advantage, Rochelle scored one final touchdown on its last offensive drive when junior Louie Mancinas broke free across the middle of the field and received a block from senior Austin Tracey to run for an 85-yard rushing touchdown. The Hubs finished the night with 390 yards of total offense, while Geneseo recorded just 136 yards against a stout Rochelle defense led by Johnson, who made a team-high eight tackles.
“Our line has been great and our linebackers have been filling the holes,” Johnson said.
The Hubs will have arguably their biggest test of the season next Friday, when the boys are scheduled to face the Sterling Golden Warriors on the road. Sterling (6-0, 2-0 NIB-12 West) cruised over Yorkville 52-14 to remain unbeaten, and the Golden Warriors currently rank No. 2 in Class 5A.