Rochester presents a major problem for Mater Dei

News-DemocratNovember 9, 2013 

With three straight Class 4A state championships, 16 straight playoff wins and only four losses on the field since 2009, the Rochester Rockets have built one of the top football programs in the state under coach Derek Leonard.

"We've got the best team in Illinois right in our own backyard," said Mater Dei coach Jim Stiebel, whose 7-3 Knights play host to the Rockets (9-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. "We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They're getting quality players, but they're just so efficient offensively. They just don't make any mistakes and you can't find a faster tempo-team out there.

"You've got to give credit to their coaching staff for preparing these guys week-in and week-out."

The list of players Rochester has sent to major Division I schools in recent years is impressive.

There's quarterback Wes Lunt and receiver Zach Grant at Illinois, Wisconsin linebacker Garrett Dooley, Purdue linebacker Sean Robinson, Iowa defensive end Riley McMinn and Eastern Illinois quarterback Austin Green, among others.

"I've got really good kids and they've really bought in to what we do, that's No. 1," said Leonard, the son of longtime Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin coach Ken Leonard whose record since 2009 is 60-5 counting a forfeit loss this season to Springfield SH-G. "If your kids don't believe and they don't work hard, nobody wins.

"We're a little different than everybody else. Just our approach and what we do offensively, our style. ... It's not as different any more, but it definitely was when we started it --and we were ahead of the curve on some things."

Last week: Rochester hammered Taylorville 42-7 and Mater Dei crushed Olney East Richland 49-21.

Scouting the Rockets: If opponents don't stop running back Drake Berberet, they will be in for a long afternoon. And that says something since quarterback Robbie Kelley has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns.

"That running back's awfully special," Stiebel said. "He's the best we've seen all year."

They've also got an awfully special defensive end in 6-foot-7 Matt Swaine, who has 13 sacks.

The Rockets score points in bunches and few teams can keep up.

"We try as best we can to get our best players the ball in different ways," Leonard said. "We have a team where we can spread it out to anybody, it seems like each week somebody else has a big week."

Knights' dilemma: The best way to keep Rochester from scoring is to maintain possession with long, time-consuming drives that result in touchdowns.

The problem is Rochester rarely allows that to happen.

"Obviously we're going to try to establish the run and that's our goal in any game," Stiebel said. "That's what we've done all year long as well as throw the ball fairly decent. It's going to take a special effort by us to accomplish this."

Leonard believes stopping Mater Dei's running game is the key to victory.

"They've always got a few really good players and their running back's probably the best and their quarterback's probably a close second," he said. "We know we've got to stop those two."

Rochester players to watch: QB Robbie Kelley (150-of-226, 2,089 yards, 19 TDs, 4 Ints.); RB Drake Berberet 150 carries, 1,045 yards, 25 TDs; 26 catches, 337 yards, 4 TDs); WR Drew Hill (44 catches, 615 yards, 5 TDs); WR Jeremy Bivens (29 catches, 569 yards, 4 TDs); DE Matt Swaine (62 tackles, 13 sacks); Evan Sembell (52 tackles, 4.5 sacks); LB Dylan Handlin (73 tackles, 7.5 sacks).

Mater Dei players to watch: RB-LB Jordan Ratermann (199 carries, 1,123 yards, 19 TDs; 18 catches, 211 yards, 2 TDs; 54 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 Int.); QB Sam Toennies (116-of-224, 1,630 yards, 14 TDs, 8 Ints.; 88 carries 394 yards, 7 TDs); WR-DB Nick Hitpas (46 catches, 675 yards, 7 TDs; 33 tackles, 2 Ints.); WR-DB Jared Thole (59 tackles 2 Ints.; 16 catches, 245 yards); LB Brady Rakers (37 tackles, 9 sacks).

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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