MORRIS — Rochelle head coach Kevin Crandall couldn’t have been prouder of how the Hubs varsity football team performed when the purple and white squared off against the Morris Redskins in the IHSA Class 4A Quarterfinals at Morris High School on Saturday.
Rochelle’s first encounter with Morris resulted in an offensive shootout, with the Redskins prevailing 34-30. This time around, both defenses came to play, and No. 5 Morris held on long enough to top No. 8 Rochelle again by a final score of 14-9. The Hubs finish 2017 with an 8-4 record, while Morris will advance to the state semifinals next weekend.
“I’ve told them over the past couple of week that, win or lose… I wouldn’t love them any more or less,” Crandall said. “We were on everything, but they just made a couple of big plays when they needed to.”
The Hubs drove the ball deep inside Morris territory twice in the first quarter, but Rochelle was unable to score on either possession. The Redskins took over on Rochelle’s first drive after Payton Voitik intercepted a pass by Hubs quarterback Noah Mershon on fourth down. Morris then showcased its run defense on Rochelle’s second drive, stuffing Hubs fullback Alex Harvey on fourth down at its own 2-yard line.
Rochelle forced two Morris punts to begin the game, and the Hubs finally scored in the second quarter after totaling 38 yards on 13 plays to take 6:41 off the clock. Junior Eddie Villalobos kicked a season-long 42-yard field goal to give Rochelle a 3-0 lead.
But the Redskins went to the air on a chilly and overcast Saturday afternoon, and quarterback Mitchell Mayberry capped off a seven-play, 69-yard drive with a 11-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Spiezio with 18 seconds remaining in the first half. Morris entered its home locker room up 7-3 over the Hubs at halftime.
“Our kids have proven so much since the start of the season,” Crandall said. “You don’t always know how the season is going to play out, but I don’t think we could’ve gotten any more out of our kids. I think we’ve exhausted all the talent and resources we have, and they continued our legacy of always playing hard.”
Morris received the ball to start the third quarter, but the Redskins gave it right back to Rochelle after senior lineman James Kerfin recovered a fumble by Morris running back Kameron Dransfeldt. The Hubs moved the ball down to the Morris 10-yard line, but a 15-yard penalty and two sacks by the Redskins quickly killed Rochelle’s scoring chance.
A near-perfect punt by Rochelle’s Brandon Johnson gave Morris possession at its own 1-yard line, and the Redskins were unable to get the ball moving forward. Morris punted for a third time, and despite taking over in enemy territory again, Rochelle went backwards after two more Redskin sacks.
“Hopefully the returning players for next season realize that all the hard work and sacrifice is worth it,” said Crandall, whose 24-year coaching career at Rochelle Township High School came to an end on Saturday. “When they buy in, they understand that nothing comes easily and they have to work hard for everything they get.”
Mayberry’s 42-yard pass to Chatten Dryfhout set up an 18-yard run by Dransfeldt. Morris then scored three plays later when Mayberry and Spiezio hooked up for a 12-yard touchdown strike. Austin Hastings added the extra point to give Morris a 14-3 advantage.
Trailing by 11 points and looking to move quickly, Rochelle turned in its best offensive drive of the game, going 72 yards on 10 plays in 3:29 and scoring on a 10-yard touchdown run by senior Ehren Metzger, who ended the contest with a team-high 127 rushing yards. Villalobos took the toss on Rochelle’s 2-point conversion attempt, but the junior was stopped short of the goal line.
However, Villalobos stepped up and made Rochelle’s biggest defensive play of the day, intercepting Mayberry’s third-down pass to give the Hubs possession at their own 36-yard line with 4:17 in the fourth quarter. Rochelle gained 13 yards over its next three plays to force a Morris timeout as the road fans began to take over the crowd noise.
With the ball at their own 49-yard line, the Hubs tried to pick up a chunk of yards, but Mershon’s pass over the middle intended for Metzger was picked off by Trevor Tanke, and Morris regained possession at its 35-yard line. The Redskins picked up three first downs on their final drive to run the clock out and eliminate Rochelle from postseason contention.