Illini recruit put body on the line in Rochester's biggest football game in years

Rochester quarterback Hank Beatty (8) joins with Sacred Heart-Griffin's Noah Gray (52) as the Rockets and the Cyclones gather for a prayer after Sacred Heart-Griffin defeated Rochester in the IHSA Class 4A semifinals at Rocket Booster Stadium in Rochester, Ill., Friday, November 19, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]
Ryan Mahan
State Journal-Register

For four years, Hank Beatty gave the Rochester football team everything he could. 

Friday was no different for the Illinois-bound, do-everything weapon. In fact, the only thing that could get him off the field was an injury in Rochester's 49-42 Class 4A semifinal loss to Sacred Heart-Griffin. 

On offense, Beatty ran 28 times for 189 yards and two touchdowns — including a 63-yard score — and caught a 34-yard touchdown pass. In the process, he broke the Central State Eight Conference's scoring record. The Rockets leaned heavily on Beatty defensively, too. When Rochester's offensive and defensive units swapped out, Beatty stayed on the field each time. 

Beatty first started to cramp up in the third quarter but it wasn't until a big gain was negated on a Rochester holding call that Beatty stayed down. Rochester's trainer, Pete Stoll, worked on Beatty and he got up from the turf and walked off the field — but with a discernible limp. 

Game story:Sacred Heart-Griffin rallies to thrilling Class 4A semifinal victory at Rochester

"I was cramping up just about everywhere in my legs," Beatty said. "It sucks. I was cramping: both hamstrings, both calves. It was just all the running I think; I was just worn out."

With Beatty out for the series with less than nine minutes left, Rochester eventually punted, already trailing SHG 42-39.

Four plays later, the Cyclones (12-1) scored for a 49-39 lead with just 5 minutes, 34 seconds left.

Rochester quarterback Hank Beatty (8) tries to escape the grasp of Sacred Heart-Griffin's KeShon Singleton (5) on a rush in the first half during the IHSA Class 4A semifinals at Rocket Booster Stadium in Rochester, Ill., Friday, November 19, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

Rochester coach Derek Leonard put all the blame on himself. 

"We probably played (Beatty) too much," Leonard said. "It's my fault; I made two bad calls: I made that call (leaving Beatty out nearly all game) and (a pass which was intercepted in the second quarter)."

But it would've been nearly impossible for Leonard to get Beatty off the field. 

"He did tell me no, but I knew with those carries and he's not used to playing defense and it was my fault," Leonard continued. "He did get hit hard and we ran him a ton.

"He's our guy, he's one of the best ever and he's maybe the greatest ever. At this school, he'll go down as one of the best of all time."

With his Rockets trailing, a noticeably-hobbled Beatty hit Austin Adcock for a 13-yard gain on third-and-1 and had three more carries of 6, 7 and 6 yards to keep the ball moving. But Beatty's tank was dry. The poundings and the running had taken their toll on the senior. 

Hank's family:Rochester star and Illini football commit has strong family roots at Illinois

"I could barely walk at the end of that drive," Beatty said. "I was just kind of limping around out there so I wasn't even worth much me being out there, really."

Leonard said the team's success can sometimes be a detriment. The Rockets lost a nonconference game 56-7 to Class 8A semifinalist Loyola Academy in Week 2 before pulling out a 45-41 win over SHG the following week. Rochester won each of the final six regular-season games by 21 points or more and cruised over its three playoff victims. 

Rochester quarterback Hank Beatty (8) pulls in a touchdown pass against Sacred Heart-Griffin's KeShon Singleton (5) in the first half during the IHSA Class 4A semifinals at Rocket Booster Stadium in Rochester on Friday. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

By the time the fourth quarter began in most of those games, Beatty — who was rarely pressed into two-way action in any of those game — was able to soak in the fruits of his team's labor and enjoy watching Rochester's stars of tomorrow close out the game. 

"Eventually, he ran and played more than he ever has," Leonard said. "Sometimes when you're not in games — especially those last six, seven games — we could always pull back.

"I always had to take care of him because I didn't want him to get hurt; he's the key (to the team)."

While Rochester may have come up short in its quest for a ninth state championship game, Beatty gave the Rockets everything he could. And then some. 

Ryan Mahan

Contact Ryan Mahan: 857-246-9756,,