ROCHESTER - The 2017 football season came to a painful end Saturday for the Herrin Tigers as they fell 56-14 to the defending state champion, Rochester Rockets.
Senior quarterback Nik Baker picked the Tigers' pass defense apart, completing 23-of-29 passes for over 400 yards and five touchdowns in only one half of action.
Leading 49-7 at the intermission, Rochester had a running clock on the Tigers the entire second half.
One of the few bright spots for Herrin on this day was the running of senior Jase Gosha, who romped for 203 yards on 20 carries. He scored both touchdowns against the Rockets - one from 56 yards out with 10:36 to play in the second period and one from 59 yards out with 9:52 left to play in the final period.
Gosha finishes as the school's all-time single-season scoring and rushing leader. His 36 touchdowns broke the previous mark of 30 set by Chase Merrill in 2014. His unofficial total of 1,874 yards breaks the rushing record of 1,779 yards set by his brother, Gavyn, in 2015.
"I knew from Day 1 this year that Jase wanted to break his brother's record," said Tigers head coach Jason Karnes. "What more can I say about him? His physical style of running the football fits perfectly with our offensive scheme. I was never scared to give him the ball. He runs so hard. I am very happy for him. He's clearly one of the top three backs I have coached."
Rochester (12-0) didn't require much time to score after receiving the opening kickoff. It took all of six plays to cover 63 yards as running back Nick Capriotti bulled into the endzone from four yards out at the 10:25 mark. The extra-point kick failed, leaving the score 6-0.
Herrin opened with great field position at its own 47, but went three and out and senior punter Trent Stucker pinned the Rockets at their own 5.
The poor field position mattered not to Rochester as Brown marched his team 95 yards in seven plays highlighted by five pass completions to the fleet-footed and sure-handed Jayden Reed, including a 19-yard scoring strike at the 5:57 mark of the first period. A two-point conversion attempt failed, making the score 12-0.
Herrin drove to the Rochester 40 before turning it over on downs. The Tigers got it right back when Baker's pass was deflected into the arms of Elijah Mason. Only 21 yards away from the endzone, Herrin couldn't take advantage and quarterback Chance Karnes was eventually intercepted on a fourth-and-four play.
Rochester moved into Herrin territory, but also turned it over on downs at the Tiger 44. One play later, Gosha broke through the line and bolted 56 yards to paydirt.
Jake Baumgarte's point-after-kick was good, bringing Herrin within five at 12-7 with 10:36 to play in the second period.
The Rockets would retaliate in a big way, scoring not one, not two, but five consecutive touchdowns to close out the half with a 49-7 lead.
Rochester increased the lead to 56-7 with 55 seconds left in the third period. Herrin scored the final touchdown of the night when Gosha again broke free and scampered 59 yards to the endzone.
"We just didn't have an answer for their offense," Karnes said. "We could play them 10 times and we would lose all 10 times. They're just better than us. In fact, Rochester is the best high school team I've seen in my 12 years and the Baker kid is the best quarterback I've seen. The way he throws the ball and runs their offense is special. I don't care if he's 5-foot-9 or not. He's awfully good."
The Rockets will host Highland Saturday in the semifinal round. Herrin finishes its season at 10-2.
"I just hope that those kids who return to our team next year have the mindset of wanting to duplicate or improve upon this year's record," Karnes said. "It takes a lot of hard work in the off season, including a lot of weight lifting, but that's what has to be done to take the next step forward."
NOTES: In addition to Gosha's two records, junior defensive back Tate Johnson broke a 39-year-old interception record with eight and senior offensive lineman Gage Wells set a school record for most varsity games started with 47.
"That might even be a state record," Karnes said. "Not too many kids are four-year varsity starters and even fewer play anywhere close to that many games. He averaged almost 12 games played per season. That's incredible."