ROCHELLE – Dixon quarterback Tyler Shaner was brilliant on his feet and with his arm in a 4A football first-round playoff game against Rochelle. Unfortunately for Shaner and his Dukes teammates, Xavier Villalobos proved to be the worst nemesis ever.
The 5-foot-4, 120-pound sophomore intercepted Shaner three times, the most crucial in overtime to thwart a Dixon score on fourth down.
“What a sigh of relief,” Rochelle coach Kyle Kissack said. “That kid rose to the occasion and delivered in the biggest way.”
One play later, another sophomore, Grant Gensler, ran the ball 10 yards on Rochelle’s OT possession and the Hubs survived an upset bid, winning 42-36.
On Rochelle’s best scoring opportunity late in the game, Grant’s older brother Garrett fumbled at the 1-yard line with score tied 36-36.
“I’ve never fumbled in my high school career,” said the all-state NIU recruit, who finished with 159 yards rushing, giving him 2,982 for his career. “What a game this was, and what a way to finish it. Dixon gave us all we could handle.”
Early on, it looked the Hubs would have their way, running at will against Dixon. On Garrett Gensler and sophomore Erich Metzger scores, Rochelle took a 14-0 lead.
In between, Villalobos picked off Shaner in the end zone to save a potential touchdown. Then, the Dukes faced a third-and-20 after a penalty and Rochelle had a chance to really put the pressure on.
It was Shaner to the rescue, though. A 15-yard pass to Rylan Ramsdell got the Dukes out of the hole, and Shaner then turned the game around with a 48-yard run on a zone read, as the Hub defense over-pursued. One play later, he found younger brother Cullen Shaner for an 8-yard score to pull the Dukes with 14-6.
“We were in a tough spot and our kids responded,” coach Jared Shaner said.
Sophomore Aidan Hoggard then came up with the biggest play of his career with a pick-6 on Rochelle’s next possession after Hunter Vacek pressured the QB.
“I got an A-Gap blitz and saw the quarterback cock back,” Vacek said. “I looked back at Hoggard, one of my best friends, and yelled Oskie, Oskie [code for errant pass]. It was a beautiful moment.”
The Dukes defense stepped up on the next possession, as Peyton Dingley and Johnny Baker threw Metzger for a 3-yard loss and Gensler was stuffed on fourth down.
Shaner made it 20-14 with a TD pass to Ramsdell. That’s how it appeared the score would be at halftime, but Hayden Inman found a wide-open Trey Taft in the end zone for a Hub score with 10 seconds left, and Rochelle led 22-20 at the break.
“That was a big one,” coach Shaner said.
The Dixon crowd was brought to its feet on the first play of the second half with Tyler Shaner going 75 yards for a score, breaking out of a pack in the middle and running untouched the rest of the way for a 28-22 Dukes lead.
Shaner ran for 137 yards, and was 15-for-24 passing for 193 yards and 3 TDs.
Metzger gave the Hubs the lead back at 30-28 with a 7-yard score, keyed by Taft’s 41-yard run, Rochelle’s only long gain of the game.
“For how good Rochelle is on the ground, I thought we kept the big-play capability down,” Shaner said.
After Villalobos’ second INT, Garrett Gensler finished off a 77-yard drive with a TD to make it 36-28 in favor of Rochelle, with extra points looming large throughout the contest. The Dukes stuffed Rochelle on that PAT to keep it a one-score game.
It was Shaner running and passing his team to a tie, with Ramsdell grabbing a 5-yard score and Jath St. Pier catching critical PAT pass to make it 36-36 late in the third quarter.
St. Pier also had an interception at the Dukes’ 10-yard line, as Rochelle mounted a last-minute charge. The Hubs had gotten the ball back after making a rare stop (not counting interceptions) of the Dixon offense on a fourth-and-9 at the Rochelle 35.
“It was back and forth all night. This was the best game we played all year,” Dukes RB Aiden Wiseman said.
In the overtime, Wiseman ran for 7 yards on first down, but a critical illegal motion penalty on second down moved the ball back five yards. Cullen Shaner went 6 yards on an outside sweep, setting up a third-and goal from the 2-yard line. Tyler Shaner ran into a brick wall on a QB sneak, setting up the fourth-down interception, further validating Villalobos’ status as a high-school hero.
“It was all about position,” said Villalobos, who also finished second in the 2A state wrestling tournament as a freshman.