The Nazareth Academy football team entered Saturday’s Class 7A championship game as the clear favorite against St. Charles North. The Roadrunners made good on that prognostication by defeating the North Stars 31-10 at Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign on Nov. 24.
With three state titles and a runner-up finish since 2014, the Roadrunners are arguably a dynasty or well on the way to such a coveted distinction.
Nazareth (13-1) methodically pulled away from St. Charles North via its diverse offensive attack. Four players scored touchdowns and kicker Andrew Hughes added a 32-yard field goal to account for the Roadrunners’ points.
Nazareth running back Derrick Strongs Jr. opened the scoring on a 9-yard touchdown run with 2:10 left in the first quarter. Nazareth put together a 99-yard drive on 14 plays that took six minutes.
“Our opening drive really set the tone of the game,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “I’d like to credit to our offensive line, too, which established our running game. That kept them off balance and from focusing on our passing game.”
After the North Stars’ Luke Barresi kicked a 53-yard field goal to make the score 7-3, the Roadrunners’ Michael Love (7 carries, 92 yards; 4 catches, 58 yards) responded with a 59-yard TD run, extending the lead to 14-3 at the 3:14 mark of the second quarter.
The Roadrunners tacked on a pair of TDs over the first five minutes of the third quarter to build a 28-3 advantage. Sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy (15-for-24, 201 yards) threw a 61-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver Diamond Evans (4 catches, 83 yards), followed by Dylan Smith’s 3-yard run into the end zone. McCarthy performed well despite dealing with a fractured thumb.
“Michael and Diamond did what they have been doing all year,” Racki said. “They have the ability to make big plays which kind of separates us from being in closer games.”
With 2:17 left in the third quarter, St. Charles North quarterback Kyler Brown tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Alec Kritta (4 catches, 39 yards) to make the score 28-10.
Hughes closed out the scoring with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter with his 32-yard field goal.
Statistically, Nazareth turned in a balanced effort on offense. The Roadrunners amassed 443 yards of total offense (242 yards rushing/201 passing), 21 first downs and went 3-for-3 on scoring chances inside the red zone.
On defense, Jermaine Baker and Brevin Reifsteck led Nazareth with seven tackles apiece. CJ West had five tackles including 2.5 for loss and Marcus Griffin added four tackles. Cameron Leach, Alex Carrillo, Love and Evans chipped in three tackles apiece.
The Roadrunners contained St. Charles North running back Tyler Nubin, who rushed for 70 yards on 15 carries. Brown completed 7 of 15 passes for 55 yards. Nazareth held the North Stars to 200 yards of offense on 51 plays (3.9 yards per play).
About the only negative for Nazareth was committing 11 penalties for 89 yards.
Saturday’s win caps off another stellar year for Nazareth. The team went 8-1 during the regular season. In the playoffs, the Roadrunners defeated Andrew (42-11), Hersey (49-14), Simeon (34-27), Batavia (47-28) and St. Charles North (31-10). Since 2014, they’ve won state championship in three different IHSA classes — 5A, 6A and 7A.
“To win this year in 7A is a huge accomplishment and has all kinds of special meanings for our seniors and the school,” Racki said. “The hardest thing to do is win the first one. After we won state in 2014, then it almost became a standard the next year. A culture is established that serves our younger levels of the program well.
“After losing in the state finals last year, this year felt like a continuation of that game to get back here. It seemed meant to be for us this season. We’re going to enjoy this one. It’s very emotional for us.”
Nazareth will lose several outstanding seniors, notably Love, Evans, Smith, Baker, Leach and Louie Stec. However, the team returns many key players next season, including McCarthy, Carrillo, Strongs Jr., Griffin, Reifsteck and Tyler Morris.