Ryan Doubek played like someone who truly appreciated the second chance he received Friday night.
The Burlington Central senior middle linebacker thought his high school football career was over when the left hand he broke in the season opener required surgery. But the 6-foot, 205-pound Doubek found out Wednesday he could return for a key Kishwaukee River Conference matchup at Woodstock's Larry Dale Field.
On the first play from scrimmage, Doubek showed no fear with his left hand heavily taped up as he emphatically blasted Woodstock's David Shinherr for a 1-yard loss. That was exactly the fuel the Rockets needed to power to a 55-16 victory as sophomore Jake Lenschow threw 6 touchdown passes in his third varsity start.
"Having the captain of the defense back is a game-changer," said junior Nicholas Termini, who was making his own return from missing last week with a concussion.
"It's great to be back, especially with this group of guys," Doubek said. "Honestly, words can't describe it. I've missed the game since Week 1 and ever since then I wanted to get back on the field. It's just a blessing."
The Rockets (3-3, 1-2) felt that way as they rebounded from allowing 103 points in consecutive losses to Richmond-Burton and unbeaten Johnsburg. A running clock was already in effect and they had a 558-85 advantage in yards after Lenschow threw his final touchdown pass of 28 yards to Michael Kalusa for a 55-3 lead just 3:58 after intermission.
Lenschow, who took over after Johnny DiCostanzo suffered a season-ending knee injury, was 8-for-14 for 332 yards. Seniors Samuel Esterly, Jackson LaPenske, Ryan Ledebuhr, Joe Cesaroni and Samuel Dossey gave Lenschow all the time he needed to also hit on first-half touchdowns of 13 yards to Jarret VanAcker, 9 to Termini, 60 to Dejsani Beamon, 85 to Kalusa and 63 to Kyle Moring.
"Jake had his best game throwing by far," said Central coach Brian Melvin after his team outgained Woodstock 563-190.
"The first play set the tone like everyone said," Lenschow said. "Everyone turned and looked and said, 'Doubek's back.'
"The line was there all night. I didn't get hit all night. The receivers made plays and we had blocks downfield."
Termini was also back in force after he was out for the 65-0 loss to Johnsburg with a concussion he suffered against R-B. Termini was cleared to play Thursday and had first-half touchdown runs of 60 and 28 yards.
The 5-8, 150-pound junior also had a big part in the defensive effort that forced 5 turnovers and took advantage of the loss of Woodstock (4-2, 2-1) starting quarterback Tanner Heidtke to an injured left ankle on the third play of the second quarter. Beamon and Layn Reynolds had interceptions, Travis Schambach recovered a fumble to set up the first score and Dossey's sack turned into a fumble recovery by Nathan Figurski.
Lineman Vincent O'Neal, Termini and Moring also had stops for losses.
"We got the Rocket defense back," Doubek said.
And they also got their attitude back as they face 3-3 Woodstock North in their final home game next week and finish with Marengo and Harvard.
"We changed some things and we were a little more intense," Melvin said of the week after the Johnsburg loss. "We tried to weed out some people who didn't want to be part of the program and the kids responded."
Now the goal is to help Doubek make up for lost time by giving him and the Rockets a chance at some extra football for the first time since 2014.
"We've got to keep winning," he said. "We're trying to make the playoffs. Actually, we're going to make the playoffs."
Said Termini: "If we come off with the kind of energy we had tonight and everybody's healthy you'd better watch out. Tonight we got the ball rolling and I don't think we're going to stop until Week 10 comes."