'Big' offensive line paves way for Rochelle Hubs as they plow into state quarterfinals

Staff report
Rockford Register Star
Landon Mickley, No. 79, and the Rochelle Hubs' offensive line gets set for another play during Rochelle's 34-22 win at Johnsburg on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.

JOHNSBURG — With a powerful offensive line paving the way all night, the Rochelle Hubs plowed through Johnsburg for the second time this season on Friday night, this time using a 34-22 victory to launch themselves into the Class 4A state quarterfinals for the first time since 2017.

To help put it all into perspective: The Hubs are into the quarters for just the fifth time in program history, and they reached nine wins for the first time since 2004.

"This is big," said junior Landon Mickley, the quiet but intimidating offensive and defensive linemen for the Hubs who is pretty big himself, at 6-foot-7, 352 pounds. "If we stick together, we can keep this going. We aren't done yet."

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Rochelle (9-2) will now take on Wheaton St. Francis (10-1), which hammered Evergreen Park 42-0 on Saturday, at home at 2 p.m. Saturday for the right to advance to the Class 4A Final Four. It's possible because of the Hubs' sweep of Johnsburg.

Back in Week 3, Rochelle rushed for almost 700 yards, with senior Garrett Gensler chalking up 362 yards himself, in a 60-35 regular-season victory. The O-line eventually took charge in that one, too, but it didn't come easy. The Hubs' line was whistled for nine holding penalties in the first half alone, and it was back and forth until midway through the third quarter.

With fullback Erich Metzger taking the lead in the second-round playoff matchup, though, the Rochelle O-line took charge right away this time. The Hubs rushed for 342 yards on Friday, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. They were 10-of-11 on third-down tries and never punted.

Erich Metzger, No. 7, breaks toward a hole that opens up with the help of some strong blocking from offensive lineman Landon Mickley, No. 79, and wingback Trey Taft, No. 22, during Rochelle's playoff win at Johnsburg on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.

"We did not want to do that again; the last time we played them, that was rough," Mickley said. "Not this time. This time we got right on them, and we didn't stop."

Mickley, the right tackle, is joined on the offensive line by Jaden Cook, Kaiden Morris, John Green, Bradley Cooney, and ends Aiden Darby and Jack Pavlak. They've combined to plow open holes that have the Hubs averaging 7.8 yards per carry on the season.

And, they were all on their game Friday. It was a heavy dose of Metzger early on, and he had 133 yards on the ground in the first half alone as the Hubs slowly wore down Johnsburg.

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A first-half interception by Aidan Rodriguez and a late-second-half pick by Tommy Tourdot was key as the Hubs' defense came up big as well. But the offense, led by the line, which helped make all three of the Hub backs look good on Friday night, was the key to the victory.

"We just love to see our running backs be successful, so we are sustaining those blocks for them," said Darby, the tight end who is 6-foot-6, 253 pounds. "Everything we do starts up front ... The more we do it, the better we get."

Halfback Gensler got a lot more attention from the defensive side this time around, but still managed 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 19 carries, while wingback Trey Taft had 89 yards and a TD on just 12 carries for a 7.4 yard-per-carry average, and he found his way in for three two-point conversions as well.

"It's fun being a lineman, especially on this team," Mickley said. "But it's tough, too. You have to do your job, or everybody knows about it.

"Tonight, we did our jobs."