'Going for the doughnut': Rochester's playoff run so far is all about defense
ROCHESTER — The Rochester defense wanted a shutout in the Class 4A playoff opener against Effingham. But two Rockets' turnovers gave the Flaming Hearts great field position for two scores.
On Saturday, Breese Central received no such quarter as No. 4 Rochester won its second-round playoff game 42-0 at Rocket Booster Stadium.
"I said it last week, and I'll say it again: we were going for the doughnut and we got it this week," Rochester junior linebacker Parker Lyons said.
Rochester (10-1) will travel to No. 1 Carterville (11-0) for a 4A quarterfinal next weekend. Carterville blanked No. 8 Coal City (7-4) 22-0 in its second-round game on Saturday.
Defense on full display
It wasn't just that Rochester's defense kept Breese Central (8-3) out of the end zone all game — even with the Rockets' second-unit defenders against the Cougars' starting offense.
But Rochester allowed Breese Central, the Cahokia Mississippi Conference co-champions, just 209 yards of offense. Senior quarterback Conner Freeze accounted for almost every one of the Cougars' inches: He ran 22 times for 73 yards and threw for 130 yards while completing 11 of 27 passes, including three interceptions.
"We had a slow start last week, so we wanted to come out firing off this week," Rochester senior lineman Grant Wisecup said. "We knew we had to stop the run because in the playoffs it's about the run."
With Rochester leading 21-0 late in the first quarter, Lyons had two consecutive sacks of Freeze as Breese Central faced third- and fourth-and-goal situations.
"It means a lot," Lyons said. "These guys (Breese Central) were really good offensively and it really magnifies the win."
Rochester's offense, which got the ball back at its own 10-yard line, went 90 yards in 70 seconds for a 28-0 lead. The drive was capped by a shovel pass from quarterback Keeton Reiss to Parker Gillespie, who scored a 70-yard touchdown.
That was the closest the Cougars got to a score.
"We just knew what we needed to do coming out," said Rochester defensive back Brady Baird, who had an interception. "We prepared for the other team, watched film and got done what we needed to get done and coming out ready to play. We're throwing the first punch."
Rockets go 6-for-6 to run the clock
Rochester scored on all of its first six possessions and led by enough to start the running clock at the start of the third quarter with three minutes left in the first half.
The Rockets forced and recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff. Two plays later, Reiss barreled in for a 9-yard touchdown. Zoe Cormier made the extra-point kick, which she did on all five of her other opportunities. She improved to 60 of 65 on point-after kicks this season.
"Our special teams coach (Eric) Warren, (defensive coordinator Steve) Buecker defensively and all our (defensive) coaches did a great job and came up with a great game plan," Rochester coach Derek Leonard said.
Rochester's offense got to show more of its playbook to Breese Central on its second possession. Starting from their own 33, the Rockets had an 11-yard pass from Reiss to Henry Buecker, a 49-yard pass from Reiss to Gillespie and an 8-yard score from Reiss to Canon Bruce.
It was back to easy field position for the Rockets' third touchdown after Nolan Mrozowski intercepted Freeze and returned it to the Breese Central 3. Reiss punched it in on one play for a 21-0 lead.
Mrozowski put Rochester up 35-0 with a 5-yard TD with 9 minutes, 13 seconds left in the second quarter and Rochester put together a 13-play, 81-yard drive to put the finishing touches on the scoring. Lance Ingold finished it off with a 4-yard touchdown catch.
Reiss threw for 206 yards, three touchdowns and completed 12 of 16 passes without an interception. At the start of the game, the National Weather Service in Lincoln reported the Springfield area saw sustained wins of 15-20 mph and wind gusts around the start time of 4:30 p.m. were between 30-33 mph.
Reiss didn't seem to mind.
"We used the wind to our advantage in the first quarter and that was big," Leonard said. "He's got a good arm and that helps. Arm strength is huge in this wind. He doesn't look like (a prototypical quarterback) but he is one and he's a damned good one. I'm really proud of him because it's hard managing the game in this kind of weather and he did a great job."
Wisecup said his shoulder came out of place after tackling Freeze for a 2-yard loss in the second quarter but he said it popped itself back in before the trainer could get to him. He returned to action but sat out the second half — with the win ensured — just as a precaution.
"I should be good next week," Wisecup said.
Contact Ryan Mahan: 788-1546, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.