ROCHESTER — Althoff football coach Ken Turner knew the Crusaders faced a monumental task in taking on the three-time defending state champion Rochester Rockets on Saturday in a Class 4A quarterfinal.(*16*)
What Turner didn't know was that the Crusaders would have yet another obstacle to overcome --the wind.
Rochester senior quarterback Robbie Kelley threw five touchdown passes -- including three in the final 4:40 of the first half to break the game open -- as the Rockets went on for a 50-21 win.
Taking advantage of a 25-to-30 mph wind that blew throughout the game, Rochester (11-1) used Kelley's pin-point accuracy to turn an eight-point lead into a 36-7 advantage by halftime.
When Kelley started the third quarter with touchdown passes of 5 yards to Drew Hill and 32 yards to Jeremy Bivens, Rochester had scored on six consecutive possessions and owned a 50-7 lead.
"It was the first time he (Kelley) had played under those kinds of conditions. It was really windy out there and I thought he did a great job of keeping his poise and making good throws,'' Rochester coach Derek Leonard said. "We were sluggish early. But he (Kelley) gave us a lift when we needed it.''
While Rochester moves into a semifinal next week against Rock Island Alleman, Althoff's season comes to an end. Once 2-4, the Crusaders (7-5) needed to win their last three regular-season games just to make the playoffs.
Two postseason wins earned them a trip to Rochester, where Saturday they gave one of the state's elite programs all it wanted for the first 18 minutes.
But unable to move the football against the wind in the second quarter, along with the hot hand of Kelley, proved to be too much.
"I'm proud of my team. To be able to win the last three games just to get in and then get to the quarterfinals, tells a lot about these kids,'' Turner said. "And we're still a very young team. We started three freshmen out there today.
"It's disappointing to have the season end. But for our young kids to have this experience is great.''
With running back Drake Berberet rushing for 70 of his 186 yards, Rochester went 80 yards on three plays to grab a 7-0 lead in the opening 37 seconds of the game.
Berberet went the final 38 yards for his first score. He then added a 58-yard run with three minutes left in the first quarter, making it 12-0.
Althoff, led by senior quarterback Eric Mertens, then went 65 yards on seven plays to close within 12-7.
Mertens, who finished 12 of 23 for 160 yards, completed four passes on the march before connecting with Collin McClellan on a 34-yard strike with 1:29 left in the first quarter.
But as Turner saw it, Althoff could have benefited even more from having that strong wind at its back in the first quarter.
"The wind was a factor and we had a couple of mistakes that cost us when we had the wind,'' Turner said. "If we score another touchdown or two there, it may have been a different game.''
After Grant Fitzsimmons' 31-yard field goal increased the Rockets lead to 15-7 with 7:42 left in the first half, the bottom dropped out on the Crusaders.
Unable to move the football against the wind and a stout Rockets defense, Althoff allowed the Rochester offense to have field position inside the 45-yard line three times in the final 4:40 of the half.
And each time, Kelley made the Crusaders pay.
He fired scoring passes of 30 yards to David Gunter and 27-yard strikes to both Bivens and Hill as the lead grew to 36-7 at halftime.
Kelley finished 16 of 25 for 276 yards and five scores.
"Our defense came up big in that sequence as well,'' Leonard said. "Althoff's a good football team and Mertens can really hurt you if you give him time to throw.
"I thought we did a good job of pressuring him. And of course having the wind also helped give us good field position, to where we didn't have to go 70 or 80 yards to score.''
The Crusaders gave the crowd a glimpse of the future late in the game as a pair of freshmen scored late touchdowns.
Paris Johnston scored on a 1-yard and Jaylan Bester added an 8-yard TD run.