Sycamore defense faces stern test against Rochelle's run attack

Rochelle’s offensive plan is simple, yet painstakingly hard to stop.

The Hubs will run, run and run some more, grinding out a couple of yards at a time and wearing defenses down. The clock runs, the game shortens and crowds are put in a time warp, forgetting about the spread offenses that have become all the rage in football.

Rochelle has rode that offense to a 5-1 record this season, with its only loss coming to undefeated Kaneland in Week 5. Its running attack centers on tailbacks Marquez Felix and Evan White. Felix has rushed for 787 yards and 10 touchdowns while White has 720 yards and 12 touchdowns.

It’s a formula that requires a defense to have sure tacklers.

“When you’re tackling, you have to run your feet because a two-yard gain turns into a four-yard gain for them because the backs run so well,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. “That’s great for them.” 

As conference rivals, Sycamore is familiar with Rochelle’s run-dominant style and the Spartans have won four of the past five against the Hubs, the only loss occurring in the second round of the 2011 Class 5A playoffs.

Sycamore has experience against the Hubs and also played a run-heavy Geneseo team in Week 4, posting a 19-0 shutout.

“I’ll come down and play another linebacker. I got another team to do it against before Rochelle,” senior safety Michael Stinnett said. “We have some experience from that. We know what we’re doing. We didn’t have to change the defense too much.”

Ryan said although Rochelle and Geneseo possess similar styles, the Hubs do some things a bit differently, which forces Sycamore to change up their blueprint as well. But the overall defensive themes remain the same.

“We have to be fundamentally sound,” Stinnett said, “and disciplined on the back sides and reading our keys.” 

One way to combat Rochelle’s slow-it-down approach is to get on top early. The Spartans jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the first half and also led, 26-7, in the fourth quarter of last year’s 12-point win at home.

In comparison to the Hubs’ healthy running stats, quarterback Angel Burciaga has only attempted 41 passes all season, completing 18 of them.

Rochelle’s run game not only has an effect on a defense, but the opposing offense as well. Sycamore’s offense, which has averaged 39 points per game, will likely find itself with fewer chances and less time to get on the scoreboard.

In last year’s matchup, Sycamore didn’t even run an offensive play during the third quarter.

“It limits your possessions. No matter how well you defend them, and it’s very difficult to defend them, that clock’s running,” Ryan said. “It really puts a value to your offensive possession. It really can shorten a game.”