Illinois High School Football News

Joey Puleo’s touchdown, sack, interception help Sycamore football shut out Rochelle

Sycamore's Joey Puleo follows a block from Lincoln Cooley to get through the Rochelle line during their game Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, at Rochelle High School.

ROCHELLE — Joey Puleo saw the fourth down pass float into the air, and he knew he was going to come away with the pick.

Puleo’s interception of Rochelle quarterback Hayden Inman early in the fourth quarter helped preserve Sycamore’s 34-0 shutout win over the Hubs in a battle of undefeated teams Friday night.

“I was just thankful the D-linemen tipped it right up to me,” said Puleo, who also had four carries for 40 yards and a touchdown. “That might be the easiest interception of my life right there.”

Sycamore’s defense spent most of the second half on the field. Rochelle ran 71 plays in the game, with 44 in the second half alone. Sycamore (5-0) ran just seven second-half plays for 112 yards, scoring twice after leading 20-0 at the break.

But Rochelle (4-1) managed just 213 total yards, with 168 on the ground. The Hubs averaged 2.5 yard per carry, with Garrett Gensler leading the way with 31 carries for 101 yards.

“Early on we didn’t do great on first down, and that’s a key against teams like this,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. “But I thought what we did really well, we didn’t give up any big chunk plays - just one on the pass on fourth down. That’s the only big chunk play we gave up. It’s hard to run a lot of plays against a good defense and still score. And we kept them out. Not giving up any chunk plays is huge.”

The biggest play of the night for the Hubs was after Puleo had a sack to set up a fourth and 21, Inman found David Gerber for a 35-yard gain. It was the only play of more than 12 yards on the day for the Hubs.

Sycamore had 17 carries as a team for 166 yards, led by a five-carry, 69-yard performance for quarterback Eli Meier, who was also 8 for 11 passing with 147 yards and two touchdowns. Seven of his completions for 139 yards went to Burke Gautcher.

“We just want to get the ball into a great athlete’s hands,” Ryan said. “Eli gets the ball out so quick it’s a really easy offensive play that can get you some yards and sometimes some touchdowns.”

The Spartans scored on five of their six possessions in the game, starting with the first one. Meier ran a draw to get in from 6 yards out to cap a drive highlighted by a 24-yard run by Zack Crawford. Rochelle never punted in the game, going for it on fourth down eight times, converting three of them.

Sycamore’s second score capped a 56-yard, four-play drive that started with Meier escaping a sack and going for 45 yards. Tyler Curtis punched it in from 3 yards out to push the lead to 13-0 late in the first quarter.

“We came in here ready to be physical and dominated all phases of the game,” Puleo said. “We prepared well all week, our coaches did a great job of preparing us, we had a great scouting report, we were ready for anything they threw at us. That’s what led to the shutout tonight”

After another fourth-down stop, Sycamore went 41 yards in four plays, capped on a deep bomb from Meier to Gautcher on fourth-and-10 for a 20-0 lead.

To start the second half, Sycamore forced a four-and-out and then scored on a three-play, 29-yard drive, capped by a 23-yard run by Puleo in which he exploded through the line and evaded two downfield tackles for the score and a 27-0 lead.

“We had a lot of big plays,” Ryan said. “And that was huge cause they were huge at the line of scrimmage early and we kind of spread them out and we had the ability to do that. I’m grateful we have the athletes to have the ability to do that. not everybody has the athletes to pack it in and spread it out. And that’s what we needed to do tonight.”

Rochelle got deep into Sycamore territory with a 16-play drive that included the fourth-and-long conversion, but Puleo’s pick put an end to the scoring threat. Sycamore’s ensuing drive ended with a 35-yard bomb from Meier to Gautcher to complete the scoring with 8:01 left.

Rochelle ran off another 14 plays and got down to the Sycamore 21 before time ran out and Sycamore picked up its second shutout of the year.

The Spartans face Kaneland next week.

“It just feels great to do that week after week,” Puleo said. “We’re going to look to carry that into next week too.”