Rochester rolls Carterville in an IHSA quarterfinal. Another Leonard Bowl is up next

Staff report

CARTERVILLE — Rochester needed just 58 seconds to make a statement in its quarterfinal football matchup against top-seeded Carterville on Saturday.  

On Rochester’s first possession, quarterback Keeton Reiss completed a short pass to Parker Gillespie and the junior slipped a tackle, raced 78 yards for a touchdown and the fourth-seeded Rockets went on to beat the Lions 41-28 in the Illinois High School Association Class 4A playoffs. 

Rochester (11-1) will play unbeaten Sacred Heart-Griffin (12-0) in the semifinals, which is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday night at Ken Leonard Field. SHG hosted No. 6 Murphysboro and triumphed 51-13 on Saturday.       

"I just want to enjoy this one," Rochester coach Derek Leonard told BOB FM 96.7 following the game. "Obviously it’s going to be a big one. It is what it is. I can’t believe it, but we got to play them."

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Rochester tamed Carterville in the early going and scored on its first two possessions. The second touchdown was a 12-play drive that ended with a 1-yard TD run by running back Nolan Mrozowski to make it 14-0 with 4:21 left in the first period.  

The previously unbeaten Lions (11-1) answered, marching down the field when Bryce Smith popped a big run to Rochester’s 30-yard line. A fourth-and-3 conversion later by Smith led to a 7-yard TD run by the senior back and Carterville got within 14-7 with 46 seconds left in the first. 

The Rockets then seized control by scoring 20 unanswered points before the half. Rochester took advantage of a 14-yard punt by Carterville and quickly went 55 yards on five plays for a touchdown. The big play was a 21-yard reception by receiver Jack Swaney — and on the next play — Mrozowski went right up the middle for a 15-yard score to make it 21-7 with 7:33 to go in the half. 

Swaney had several dazzling receptions and his 6-yard TD reception from Reiss with 4:28 left in the second period gave the Rockets a 28-7 advantage. Gillespie had a 19-yard run in the wildcat formation on the possession, and a personal foul by Carterville aided the Rochester drive.    

The Rockets defense also came up big before the half. Carterville quarterback Andrew Hellriegel was intercepted twice in the game. Defensive back Amar’e Franklin was the recipient of Hellriegel’s first pick that came with just over 2 minutes remaining in the first half.  

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That Rochester drive ended on a snazzy play when Anthony Marinelli caught a 25-yard pass from Reiss, lateraled it to Henry Buecker at the 20-yard line, and Buecker went into the end zone for a 34-7 lead with 1:34 to go.  

The defense tightened again when Cameron Beal snuffed out a Carterville red zone drive by intercepting Hellriegel at Rochester’s 5-yard line with 7 seconds left before halftime. 

Reiss went 11 of 18 for 202 yards and two scores while rushing over 100 yards. Gillespie nabbed five catches for 110 yards and a TD. 

"To come down here in this environment and play a team of this quality and beat them like we did, I was really proud of our guys," Leonard said.

The Lions turned the ball over on downs several times during the game. On the opening possession of the third quarter, the Lions went 70 yards and got to Rochester’s 10, but came away empty.      

Carterville did get within 34-14 with 2:18 left in the third period when Hellriegel completed a 42-yard TD pass to Peyton Bittle. But Rochester recovered an onside kick at midfield, and Reiss later scored from 1 yard early in the fourth quarter. 

Bittle’s 19-yard touchdown reception and Smith’s 8-yard TD run with 3:04 remaining for Carterville created the final score.  

Reiss and Gillespie then chewed up the clock on the ground and ended the game for Rochester. Its offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, opening gaping holes for backs and keeping the Carterville aggressive pass rush from disrupting Reiss in the pocket.