Off to a 6-0 record this year, the Nazareth football team faced its stiffest test against Marist Friday at Valenta Stadium in La Grange Park.
The RedHawks, who defeated the Roadrunners 42-0 in 2017, notched another impressive victory, 34-13, against Nazareth.
While full credit belongs to Marist, Nazareth turned in an uncharacteristically flat performance.
“I thought we really lacked energy and the enthusiastic attitude we have been playing with all season,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “As the head coach, that falls on me. I did a poor job of getting the team in a proper mindset this week.”
With the game pushed up to a 5 p.m. start to avoid inclement weather, the Roadrunners played fairly well early.
Nazareth led 13-10 midway through the second quarter before Marist scored 24 unanswered points en route to the East Suburban Catholic Conference win.
The Roadrunners (6-1, 4-1 ESCC) scored first when Alex Carrillo returned a Marist fumble 97 yards into the end zone to take a 7-0 lead.
Marist responded with a 41-yard field goal and 12-yard touchdown run by Billy Skalitzky to go up 10-7.
Nazareth sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy threw a 29-yard TD pass to Michael Love. Nazareth missed the extra point but still led 13-10.
The RedHawks scored a pair of touchdowns during the last two minutes of the second quarter. Senior quarterback Mike Markett threw a TD pass each to Jadon Thomas for eight yards and to Denny Hogan for six yards as Marist pushed out to a 24-13 advantage at halftime.
The RedHawks (6-1, 5-0) added another 41-yard field goal in the third quarter and a 15-yard touchdown run by Markett in the fourth quarter.
“Marist did an excellent job of execution in all three phases,” Racki said. “Whenever we had a glimpse of momentum, they were able to stymie it quickly. Losing the field position battle was also a key element. Their ability to convert third downs and our inability to convert added to this as well.”
Markett accounted for three touchdowns and 315 yards of offense as an effective dual threat. Skalitzky chipped in his aforementioned touchdown and 42 yards rushing before leaving the game with an injury.
Conversely, the Roadrunners’ potent offense struggled against a relentless Marist defense.
McCarthy finished 4-for-12 passing for 73 yards with a TD and an interception. Consistently under pressure, he was sacked five times and Nazareth committed two turnovers.
Despite his worst game as a varsity quarterback, McCarthy is having a phenomenal season. He’s completed 79 of 116 passes (68.1 completion percentage) for 1,568 yards, 21 touchdowns and one interception. His quarterback rating is 146.
Against Marist, the Roadrunners couldn’t establish their ground game either with just 72 yards on 19 carries. Love and Breven Reifsteck caught two passes apiece for 41 and 32 yards, respectively.
The RedHawks dominated in other categories as well. Marist amassed 451 yards of total offense on 76 plays, while Nazareth had 145 yards on 37 plays. Marist collected more first downs (21-7), converted 9 of 16 third downs (56 percent), and also went 3-for-3 on fourth downs.
The Roadrunners used last year’s lopsided loss to Marist as extra motivation for the rest of the season. That approach worked as Nazareth reeled off six straight wins to make the Class 6A state final (28-21 loss against Prairie Ridge) and a 12-2 record overall.
“Getting humbled this late in the season can be a good thing,” Racki said. “A team can refocus heading into the final two weeks of season and playoffs.”
Win or lose, the Roadrunners always strive for improvement and remain a major contender to win a state championship this season.
“We always view failure as an opportunity to learn and get better,” Racki said. “Winning can mask some flaws that team needs to work on and losing can expose flaws that need to be addressed as well. The important issue is not to overreact to adjustments you must make.”
Nazareth takes on Joliet Catholic on Friday, Oct. 12 in its final home game of the regular season. Kickoff is 7 p.m.