Rochester seeks 3rd title in a row


Rochester seeks 3rd title in a row

Rochester coach Derek Leonard had hoped that he and his father Ken, the longtime coach at Sacred Heart-Griffin in Springfield, would qualify for the state finals. "It would have been a lot of fun but it didn't happen," Derek said.

Last Saturday, his father's team lost to Morris in the semifinals. Last year, the elder Leonard lost to Joliet Catholic in the semifinals. The year before, he lost in the quarterfinals. Derek won state championships in 2010 and 2011 and is seeking another against Rock Island Alleman in the Class 4A final on Friday in Champaign.

"We've been lucky and we've been blessed," Derek said. "It's all about hard work. The kids want to be like the kids ahead of them. The interesting thing is Rochester only has had football since 1998. A lot of these parents never played football. They never had a program."

Leonard, 31, in his eighth year as head coach at Rochester, is a graduate of Sacred Heart-Griffin. He played for his father. After attending Illinois College, he coached at Prairie Central in Fairbury for two years, then became head coach at Rochester.

"Being in a position to win three state titles in a row is pretty cool," he said. "I never would have dreamed of that when I became head coach eight years ago. This is awesome. It speaks about the coaching staff, the hard work of the players, the community and the youth football program.

"To make it to this level three times and the semifinals the year before that means you have to be clicking on all cylinders, not just one element. And being a small public school (enrollment: 670), it's something everybody can be proud of."

How good is this team? Leonard admits his 2010 squad, headed by quarterback Wes Lunt, wide receiver Zach Grant and running back Colton Glazebrook, was his dream team. "They were a once-in-a-lifetime team, so much talent. They went 14-0 and could have beaten any team in any class," he said.

"Last year caught me off guard. We won in a different way. We had an average defense but got hot offensively at the right time. This team reminds me of two years ago. It has a lot better defense than last year and more balance on offense."

Rochester, which is 51-3 in four years under Leonard, has won 11 games in a row since dropping a 29-26 to Sacred Heart-Griffin in Week 2. The Rockets, who are averaging 41.6 points per game, crushed Harrisburg last Saturday 49-22, scoring on seven of their first eight possessions to build a 49-0 lead at halftime.

Offensively, Rochester is led by quarterback Austin Green and running back Garrett Dooley. Green, who is committed to Eastern Illinois, has passed for 2,800 yards and 25 touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes. He also has rushed for 900 yards in a spread option offense.

Dooley, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who is committed to play linebacker at Wisconsin, has rushed for 1,400 yards and 30 touchdowns. And receiver Blake Pasley has caught 75 for 1,100 yards.

"Last year, Lunt (now at Oklahoma State) would kill you with the pass," Leonard said. "But Austin can beat you with his legs and arms. It makes it more difficult to defend our offense. We were more one-dimensional last year."

Defensively, Dooley and 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior linebacker Reed Watson anchor the 4-4 alignment. Drake Leeper, a 6-foot-1, 250-pounder, is Rochester's best lineman on both sides of the ball.

Leonard scouted Rock Island Allman on Saturday night in its 23-7 victory at Evergreen Park. Two years ago, Rochester defeated Alleman 24-7 for the Class 4A title. "We know what they do and they know what we do. We must stop their option, their run, and make them pass. If they just run on you, you're in big trouble," he said.

Rock Island Alleman (12-1), which lost only to Rock Island 10-7 on a last-second field goal, is a defense-minded team that has allowed only 116 points. The Pioneers, led by Chad Weatherell, John Tracey, Tom Noe, Ben West, Scott Schilb and Adam Hoogerwerf, have permitted no more than one touchdown in nine games.

"We have a good tackling team," said coach Dave DeJaegher, who is 34-4 in the last three years and produced state runner-ups in 2005 and 2010. "We run a 5-2 defense. That's what we've always done. We've stuck with it. It's what I know how to coach, what I am comfortable teaching.

"We won't blow anyone away with statistics but we like to mix it up. It's a fun group to coach. They came in determined after losing a heart-breaker (19-18 to Evergreen Park in the second round) last year. They came in with an attitude to have a good senior year. Everybody steps up at different times."

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings


Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."