St. Francis ousts Rochelle behind Milivojevic's 5 TD passes
Ball State University commit Alessio Milivojevic torched the Rochelle defense Friday evening, completing 20-of-24 passes for 296 yards and 5 touchdowns to lead St. Francis over the Hubs 45-14 in the first round of the IHSA Class 5A playoffs.
It's the second straight season that the Spartans (8-2, 2-1 CCL/ESCC Orange) have eliminated Rochelle (7-3, 6-0 I-8/KRC Blue) from postseason contention. The two teams met in the Class 4A quarterfinals last season, with St. Francis fending off the Hubs 35-16. With Friday's win over the ninth-seeded Hubs, the eighth-seeded Spartans will advance to take on either top-seeded Chicago Payton or 16th-seeded Sterling in the second round next week.
"We went to Rochelle last season, and the conditions were really tough," Milivojevic said. "We knew that we could throw the ball against them because of what we did last season and we threw the ball really well tonight. I had great protection from the offensive line all night."
The Spartans took control early on Friday evening, forcing a turnover on downs before Milivojevic fired the first of his five touchdown passes, hitting wide receiver Deshaun Williams for a 44-yard strike on St. Francis' first play from scrimmage. Rochelle answered on its ensuing possession, cutting the Spartans lead to 8-6 after freshman wingback Dylan Manning broke loose outside and reached the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.
St. Francis showed no signs of slowing down offensively, gaining large chunks of yards through the air as Milivojevic utilized his entire arsenal of receivers. Eight players caught passes for the Spartans, who went ahead 15-6 after Milivojevic laced a 17-yard throw to Ian Willis, who totaled 6 catches for 51 yards and 3 touchdowns in the victory.
"With our offensive line and our skills, we can move the ball against anybody," Milivojevic said. "We knew we could go deep, go short or run the ball up the gut. We can attack in all sorts of ways and when the offensive line protects me the way it did tonight, great things happen."
While St. Francis compiled 418 yards of offense in the game, the Spartans also forced three Rochelle turnovers including an interception midway through the second quarter, when defensive back James McGrath picked off Hubs quarterback Carson Lewis to set up another scoring drive for the Spartans.
A 9-yard touchdown strike from Milivojevic to wide receiver Tanner Glock helped St. Francis command a 23-6 lead over Rochelle at halftime.
"I have to thank my teammates because my receivers were running crisp routes and the offensive line was giving me five or six seconds to sit back there," Milivojevic said. "It's an easy job for me when I have these guys around me. We're gonna continue to have good practices and we're ready to come in and work everyday so we can continue to do what we did tonight."
An interception on a deep ball late in the second quarter didn't discourage Milivojevic, who tossed a 2-yard touchdown to Willis midway through the third quarter to cap off a lengthy drive that melted nearly six minutes off the clock. Running back Dom Beres rushed for a 1-yard touchdown and Willis added an 11-yard touchdown catch late in the second half, while Corin Greenwell snagged another interception for the Spartans defense early in the fourth quarter.
A 43-yard rushing touchdown from Manning was the final scoring play of the evening. Manning led all rushers in the game, totaling 117 yards on 11 carries to lead the Hubs in the game. St. Francis averaged 8.2 yards per play and outpaced Rochelle 24-14 in first downs. Penalties were the biggest issue for the Spartans, who committed nine for 78 yards in the win.