ROCHELLE — Senior captain James Kerfin knew the Hubs varsity football team had to be more physical during Friday night’s Homecoming game against the Ottawa Pirates.
Rochelle struck first to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, but Ottawa remained within striking distance for the entire first half. Behind senior running back Ethan Harsted, who totaled 105 rushing yards and one touchdown in the game, the Pirates tied the Hubs in the second quarter, and Ottawa trailed by just seven points at halftime.
Kerfin and his teammates emerged from the locker room ready to respond, however, and the purple and white took the fight to Ottawa in the second half, scoring two touchdowns while holding the Pirates scoreless to win the game 29-7.
“We made a lot of mistakes in the first half of this game,” Kerfin said. “I feel like we weren’t playing hard enough, but in the second half we punched them in the mouth and I think we were the better football team. It feels really good to get this win.”
Rochelle (3-2, 1-0 NIB-12 West) scored with 8:20 remaining in the first quarter when senior fullback Alex Harvey muscled forward for a 20-yard rushing touchdown. The Hubs forced Ottawa (1-4, 0-2 NIB-12 West) to punt on its first possession of the game, but the Pirates bounced back with a stop of their own before moving the ball 59 yards down field. Josh Jackson tried to convert a fourth-and-1 at the Rochelle 20-yard line, but senior defensive tackle Kyle Eyster stopped Jackson for no gain to give the Hubs possession.
Ottawa stalled the Rochelle offense a second time, and the Pirates evened the game at 7-7 when Harsted rushed for a 4-yard touchdown with 4:06 left in the second quarter. The Hubs were unable to find many holes in the Ottawa defense, but Rochelle adjusted its tempo to speed up its offense as the first half came to a close.
That’s when Noah Knight took over.
Filling in for senior wingback Ehren Metzger, who departed Friday’s game with a knee injury, Knight totaled 58 rushing yards on six carries during Rochelle’s final drive of the first half including a 2-yard touchdown run to put the Hubs ahead 14-7 after junior Eddie Villalobos added the extra point. Knight recorded 109 rushing yards on 10 carries in the win.
“I’ve put in a lot of reps in practice and it felt pretty good,” Knight said. “I knew what I was doing… I think we had a good week of practice and we came back and fought hard in the second half to make some plays.”
Ottawa received the ball to start the third quarter, and the Pirates continued to move the ball effectively. But for the second time in the game, Ottawa failed to convert on a fourth down to keep its drive going. After marching 49 yards to the Rochelle 29-yard line, Ottawa quarterback Slaten Swords looked to pass, but Rochelle senior defensive end Bazil Bennett met him in the pocket, sacking him to end the Pirate possession.
“We were really good up front,” Bennett said. “The heat had us beat in the first half, but we came out in the second half ready to go, and we drove it straight down the field… It’s always a great feeling to win the game.”
Harvey capped off a 66-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run, and with the Hubs leading 14-7, Ottawa moved the ball into Rochelle territory for a third time. But the Rochelle defense emerged once again, with Knight intercepting a pass by Swords and returning the ball to Ottawa’s 42-yard line.
“They just ran a short out route and I jumped it,” said Knight, who started at free safety for the first time this season. “It was a softer throw and I was able to get in front of it.”
Rochelle cashed in Knight’s interception three plays later, with Villalobos breaking through the Ottawa defensive line for a 35-yard rushing touchdown. Harvey’s 2-point conversion run after an Ottawa penalty gave the Hubs a 22-point lead and sealed the victory.
Rochelle exceeded 300 total yards for the fifth consecutive week, and the Hubs will look to keep their momentum going when they travel to Geneseo next Friday to face the Maple Leafs, who lost 45-8 to Sterling to drop to 3-2 on the season.