DeKALB – The DeKalb defense struggled to get a stop all game long, but with one clutch play, everything that happened before was forgotten.
Senior linebacker Tanner Pumphrey picked off Rochelle quarterback Angel Burciaga deep in DeKalb territory with 40 seconds left in the game, and the Barbs held on to beat Rochelle, 46-41, Friday night, essentially guaranteeing themselves a playoff spot.
With the win, DeKalb (5-4, 2-3 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) becomes playoff eligible for only the second time in the past 20 years.
Senior quarterback Jack Sauter led the way with 254 yards of offense and three touchdowns, while junior running back Dre Brown rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s a team sport,” Brown said. “We just came through as a team, and it feels great to go to the playoffs.”
The Barbs looked like the much stronger team early as they jumped out to a 13-0 lead. Sauter opened the scoring with a three-yard run, and Brown followed it with a 66-yard touchdown.
The Hubs (5-4, 1-4) came back with their trademark rushing attack to tie it at 20. Then, the Barbs picked up a fumble and took it 85 yards for the touchdown. After trading scores once more, the Barbs went into the half up 33-28.
Brown opened the second-half scoring by spinning away from several Rochelle defenders for a 23-yard score, but the DeKalb defense still couldn’t stop the Hubs.
Rochelle pounded the ball for a lengthy touchdown drive to cut its deficit to 40-34 right at the end of the third quarter. Evan White, who rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns, took it in from 14 yards out.
Sauter answered by faking a handoff to Brown and taking it himself, but once again, Rochelle answered. After DeKalb was forced to punt, the Hubs had a chance to win the game with a late drive.
They marched down the field into DeKalb territory and looked poised to take the win until Pumphrey stepped up and made the play.
“We did very, very well,” DeKalb coach Matt Weckler said. “This was a great game for us, a great game for our program, a great game for our school.
“It came down to whoever had the ball last, and, luckily, we got a stop.”