ROCHELLE — Rochelle and Chicago (Payton) battled in the postseason seven years ago, with the Hubs dominating the first-round matchup against the Grizzlies 60-16. The two teams reunited Friday evening for the opening round of the IHSA 5A Playoffs, but it was more of the same from the Hubs, who rumbled for over 450 total yards in a 36-3 win over the Grizzlies.
The No. 5 seed in the north bracket of the Class 5A bracket, Rochelle will advance to face either No. 4 seed Sterling or No. 13 seed Chicago (St. Patrick) next weekend. The Hubs (8-2, 5-1 Interstate 8/Kishwaukee River Blue Division) have now won seven consecutive games.
“I thought we really controlled the line of scrimmage tonight,” head coach Kyle Kissack said. “We were really able to move the point of attack down the field and I think our kids are playing with an edge. We need to continue finding that edge and living that now because it’s been beneficial for us this season. I think that edge comes from our kids being a group of 20-something players who basically play almost every snap. There’s a sense of pride with that.”
Rochelle scored on all three offensive possessions during the first half. The Hubs took the early lead in the first quarter, with junior Garrett Gensler taking the right-side toss and running in the 7-yard touchdown before junior Cody Stover-Cullum plowed up the middle for the 2-point conversion. Payton moved the ball on its first drive of the game, but an untimely fumble in Rochelle territory led to a recovery from Hub senior Marco Castro and a Grizzlies turnover.
“We weren’t anticipating them throwing the ball much tonight because of the wind and I thought our kids did a good job of making that adjustment early in the game,” Kissack said. “They were getting stop after stop and we doubled their time of possession. We played really well tonight on defense and we were able to execute our defense from a few different looks. It was a good team win overall and now we have to be ready to come back and work Monday.”
Rochelle took advantage of the Payton mistake, with Gensler breaking off a 60-yard touchdown run off the right side on fourth down to put the Hubs ahead 14-0 late in the first quarter. Rochelle added one more score before the half, with Gensler recording the third of his four rushing touchdowns on a 5-yard run late in the second quarter. Senior quarterback Josh Lloyd then connected with senior tight end Ethan Wells for the 2-point conversion, making it 22-0.
“We’re outnumbering our opponents at the point of the attack,” Kissack said. “We can run our toss with Garrett, but we can also run Trey [Taft] toward the opposite side and Cody [Stover-Cullum] up the middle out of the same formation. We’ve had a lot of success on toss, but it’s not as much about toss as it is about Trey and Cody being as effective as they are. There was a time this season where we hardly ran toss because Trey and Cody were running so well.”
The Hubs stopped Payton on its opening drive of the third quarter, using great field position after a short punt to string together another scoring series capped off by a 9-yard touchdown from Gensler, who finished with 176 rushing yards in the win. The Grizzlies struggled to find rhythm in the passing game due to the strong winds, with quarterback Jacob Parsons completing only 9-of-27 passes for 120 yards. Rochelle led Payton 28-0 after three quarters.
The Hubs iced their first postseason win since 2017 with a 1-yard touchdown run from Stover-Cullum, who ended the night with 110 rushing yards, early in the fourth quarter. Payton avoided the shutout on its second-to-last possession, with sophomore kicker Isa Katz, one of the team’s two female players, booting a 27-yard field goal to get the Grizzlies on the scoreboard.