ROCHESTER — Competing in its first playoff game since 2009, the La Salle-Peru hung right with the state’s most dominant program of the last decade for a half.
The No. 15-seeded Cavaliers, however, made some mistakes in then second half and couldn't keep up with the high-powered Rochester offense as the No. 2 Rockets pulled away for a 68-26 victory in the first round of the IHSA Class 5A playoffs.
“We hung with them for the first half,” L-P coach Jose Medina said. “We played them pretty tough. I think those last two touchdowns (in the first half) hurt us a bit. That’s a good offense. If they get ahead of you, it’s tough to catch up.”
The Cavs had a tough start as they went three-and-out on the opening drive, while the Rockets — who have won seven Class 4A state championships in the last nine years — needed just five plays to take a 7-0 lead.
After that, L-P managed to establish its running game with an 11-play drive — all running plays — that ended with a 9-yard touchdown run by Tre-von Hunter on an option pitch from Tyler Hartman.
After the extra point was blocked, the Cavs trailed 7-6 with 4:02 left in the first quarter.
L-P fully grabbed the momentum when Rochester quarterback Clay Bruno dropped a high snap and L-P’s Parker Swiskoski pounced on it to give the Cavs possession at the Rockets’ 27-yard line.
Three plays later, Hartman lofted a pass toward the end zone and sophomore Julius Sanchez outleapt the defender and hauled it in for a TD. Hartman found Sanchez for the two-point conversion to take a 14-7 lead.
“We were just running the ball, which is something we wanted to do on a consistent basis and we were doing it for the first half,” Medina said.
L-P’s Sean Whitfield intercepted a pass on Rochester’s next possession, but the Cavs couldn’t turn this one into points as Hartman’s pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-2 from their own 42.
Rochester’s Jacob DuRocher broke free for a 41-yard run on the first play and after a five-yard loss, ran in from 6 yards out to tie the game with 11:20 left in the second quarter.
L-P responded with another long drive, marching 72 yard on eight plays, highlighted by a 47-yard run by Gaige Noonan on a counter to set up his own 5-yard TD run.
The L-P defense stepped up to force an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal from the 9, but the Cavs were whistled for roughing the passer to set the Rockets up on first-and-goal from the 4, which led to a 4-yard TD run by DuRocher.
L-P stopped the Rockets on fourth-and-inches on Rochester’s next drive, but the Cavs went three-and-out, giving the Rockets enough time to score again with 24.1 seconds left in the half when Bruno tossed a 42-yard TD to Hank Beatty to give Rochester a 28-20 lead.
“I don’t know if I would have thrown a flag,” Medina said about the roughing the passer call. “(Being stopped on fourth down and the penalty) are things that take the wind out fo you a little bit. If that (penalty) doesn’t happen, our offense gets the ball back then we’re working to possibly go in for another touchdown. Those little things affect you and they ended up putting points on the board right before the half.”
Things went south quickly for the Cavs in the second half.
Rochester received the kickoff and needed five plays to score as a 48-yard pass from Bruno to Clay Alewelt set up a 1-yard TD run by Beatty.
The Rockets scored on their next five drives with the help of two lost fumbles and an interception on three consecutive drives.
“Turnover issues bugged us in the second half,” Medina said. “We gave them the ball back. With an offense like that, they’re going to put some points up and we just couldn't catch up.”
L-P’s lone score in the second half came between Rochester’s second and third touchdowns when Hartman found a wide open Hunter, who raced 65 yards for the score.
Noonan led the Cavs (5-5) with 115 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, while Hartman completed 2-of-6 passes for 89 yards and two scores while running for 36 yards.
Hunter and Sanchez each ran for a score and caught a TD pass.
Bruno completed 8-of-13 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns, while DuRocher ran for 189 yards and three scores on 19 attempts.