Originally Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2012, 10:54 pm
Last Updated: Nov. 24, 2012, 12:24 am

Lost second-half opportunities haunt Pioneers in 4A finals' setback

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By Terry Duckett, tduckett@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Alleman coach Dave DeJaegher yells from the sideline as he leads the Pioneers in the IHSA Class 4A championship game against the Rochester Rockets in Champaign on Friday, November 23, 2012.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Alleman's Sean Wetherell outruns the Rochester defense as he rushes upfield during the IHSA Class 4A state championship game in Champaign on Friday, November 23, 2012. The Pioneers fell to the Rockets 43-18.
CHAMPAIGN -- After a freewheeling first quarter in which Alleman and Rochester combined to score 33 points, the defensive units were gradually able to make their presence felt.

For the Pioneers, their defenders weathered the Rockets' early barrage, and gave their team several chances to close the gap in the second half of Friday's Class 4A state championship game at Memorial Stadium.

Unfortunately, those efforts went unanswered, as a pair of promising third-quarter drives that could have substantially cut into Rochester's 17-point halftime lead came up empty as the Rockets tacked on a late score to clinch their third consecutive 4A state crown with a 43-18 victory over the Pioneers.

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"I thought we just needed to get a couple of stops on defense and move the ball,'' said Alleman coach Dave DeJaegher, whose club finishes at 12-2 with its third silver medal in seven seasons and the fifth in program history. "Unfortunately, we couldn't finish some drives in the third quarter."

After Rochester scored with 26 seconds left before halftime to make it a 35-18 game, the Pioneers took the second-half kickoff and moved briskly from their own 32-yard line to the Rockets' 32.

At that point, Alleman started to move in reverse, with linebacker Reed Watson sacking Pioneer quarterback John Tracey for a six-yard loss, setting up a fourth-and-16 from the 38. On the next play, Tracey was intercepted at the 24 by Garret Dooley.

But Alleman's defense held, and the Pioneers got the ball back, setting themselves up with a first-and-10 at the Rochester 42-yard line. But Tracey threw incomplete on fourth down as another opportunity went by the wayside.

"We were holding our own, for the most part," said Alleman senior halfback/defensive back Sean Wetherell."I thought we were moving the ball well, but we had a few mistakes here and there, just the little things. We just didn't execute too well.''

Still, Wetherellrushed for 121 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries to pace the Pioneer ground game, seconded by classmate Adam Hoogerwerf's 111 yards on 17 totes.

However, Alleman wasn't done yet. The Pioneers came up with one more big defensive stand -- stuffing Dooley for no gain on a fourth-and-inches play at the goal line early in the fourth period. But a subsequent Blake Pasley interception set up Dooley's game-icing TD with 7:17 left to play.

"Our defense battled hard the whole night," Tracey stated, "but we just couldn't do it on offense, and they came up with the stops. Their middle linebacker (Dooley), he's going to Wisconsin for a reason. He was really tough to stop."

Prior to the third quarter, Alleman had a chance to put momentum on its side going into halftime when Tracey snuck over from a yard out to make it 28-18 with 1:30 left on the clock. However, Rochester grabbed the momentum right back with an eight-play, 70-yard drive capped when quarterback Austin Green hit Pasley from 16 yards out to put the Pioneers down 17 at the half.

"Both teams had big scores; they both answered the call," said Rochester coach Derek Leonard. "Going back up two possessions was big for us. When all was said and done, I think that was the play that broke their back."