Saturday’s Class 5A state title game was Ivory Kelly-Martin’s turn.
A week after Nazareth teammate Julian Love ran for 283 yards and four touchdowns in a lopsided win over St. Laurence in the semifinals, Kelly-Martin had 13 carries for 170 yards and four TDs during the Roadrunners’ 42-21 dismantling of Lincoln-Way West in the 5A final on Saturday at Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
“Julian had some monster games earlier in the playoffs, so I had a strong feeling Ivory was going to have a huge game,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “Ivory really had a breakout game and a record-breaking run in the state final, which was so fitting after all that he’s been through coming back from an injury last season. He set the tone for us.”
Kelly-Martin scored the first three touchdowns of the game on runs of 2, 96 and 19 yards. His 96-yard scamper along the right sideline was the longest in any state title game.
“It was a very exciting run,” Kelly-Martin said. “It was exciting for me to be able to help in such a big way. I’m happy for me and my team.”
Senior quarterback Carson Bartels added a pair of TD passes to Christopher Simmons (40 yards) and Justin Weller (27 yards) over the final 1:23 of the second quarter, extending the Roadrunners’ lead to 35-0 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Kelly-Martin picked up where he left off with a 17-yard TD run at the 8:24 mark to close out the Roadrunners’ scoring at 42-0.
Lincoln-Way West star running back Gabriel Montalvo (28 carries, 220 yards) scored on runs of seven, nine and 31 yards the rest of the way to make the final score more cosmetic. Quarterback Connor Lowman went 8-for-22 passing for 82 yards and wide receiver Dylan McHale had three catches for 52 yards.
The Warriors (11-3) had their hands full containing not only Kelly-Martin but the entire Nazareth lineup. The Roadrunners scored on six of their first eight possessions while holding Lincoln-Way West to just a touchdown through three quarters.
Bartels turned in an efficient performance, completing 16 of 22 passes for 249 yards and two touchdown passes. Weller caught eight passes for 139 yards. Love, who signed with Notre Dame, rushed nine times for 53 yards.
The offensive line of left tackle Matt Prendergast, left guard Devonte Dunn, center Gavin Smith, right guard Mike Carpinelli and right tackle Bryan Behrendt excelled all season opening holes for the potent combination of Kelly-Martin and Love.
“The guys on our offensive line really developed quickly and jelled well together,” Racki said. “They were a big part of our offense.”
Defensively, Joey Muscolino had eight tackles, including three tackles for loss and a sack, while Christian Davis (5 tackles), Love (4 tackles, interception) also contributed. Devonte Dunn, Freddie Locke and Christian Sampleton had three tackles apiece.
Nazareth outgained the Warriors in total offense (500-300) and had more first downs (21-16).
Lesson learned from JCA loss
Although the Roadrunners’ victories over St. Laurence in essentially a blizzard and Lincoln-Way West to secure their second straight state title will be most remembered, a regular-season loss to Joliet Catholic Academy proved invaluable.
In fact, the 38-35 loss against JCA was the turning point of the season. Trailing 31-0 at halftime, Nazareth nearly pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in IHSA history by outscoring JCA 35-7 in the second half.
“I feel like that is the best half we’ve played as a team the four years I’ve been here,” Simmons said after that memorable game. “I feel like it’s reflective of the way we can play. It just showed what we can do and what we can improve on.”
After the JCA loss on Oct. 9, The Roadrunners (12-2) ran the table the rest of the season with seven straight wins. Nazareth also gained a measure of revenge by beating the Hilltoppers 35-21 in the state quarterfinals.
Nazareth earned its second straight state championship this season. The Roadrunners defeated Lemont 26-7 in the Class 6A title game in 2014.
Saturday’s win also marked head coach Tim Racki’s sixth state championship. Before guiding to Nazareth to a pair of championships, he won four titles at Driscoll before that school closed.
“This is my 11th year [at Nazareth] and over time we’ve been able to change the culture,” Racki said. “We had to get the work ethic and attitude instilled that we belonged in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. Once we got respectable, we wanted to strive for even more.
“I think there was more pressure last season because we were pretty much crowned to be a state champion in June. This team formed an identity almost weekly in terms of improvement. In their own right, for the kids on this year’s team get out a bit from the shadow of last year’s team is impressive.”