Justin Taylor remembers how he felt last season when Fenwick High School defeated his Nazareth Academy football team in the IHSA Class 5A state quarterfinals.

“I remember them celebrating on our home field. That feeling gave us determination going into this game,” he said after the Roadrunners (8-4) blanked visiting Morgan Park 29-0 in this year’s state quarterfinal on Nov. 12. 

Taylor, a Wisconsin recruit, did his part with a pair of rushing touchdowns.

“We wanted to get downhill as fast as possible,” he said of Nazareth’s emphasis on running the football. “The offensive line stood up and got the job done.”

Morgan Park (10-2) entered the game with a dynamic and high-powered offense capable of scoring at will. But the Nazareth defense more than met the challenge, holding the Mustangs to 113 yards of total offense, including a mere 16 yards rushing.

“We have a great coaching staff and they prepared us well this week,” said Nazareth defensive end Gabe Kaminski, who had two tackles for loss and a sack. “We played together as a team.”

On the game’s opening possession, Nazareth’s Lesroy Tittle sacked and stripped Morgan Park quarterback Marcus Thaxton (9-of-20, 97 yards) of the ball, which was recovered by Brendan Flanagan. But the Roadrunners couldn’t cash in as a 34-yard field goal try by Zach Hayes was short. 

A short Mustangs’ punt the next drive gave Nazareth the ball at the Morgan Park 20. But once again the Roadrunners were denied as Logan Malachuk (6-of-8, 49 yards) was intercepted in the end zone by Kendall Griffin.

Things finally started turning late in the first quarter when a snap sailed over the Morgan Park punter and out of the end zone for a safety. Then taking over at the Mustangs’ 42 after the free kick, Malachuk’s 24-yard completion to James Penley set up Taylor’s 8-yard touchdown run at the 11:55 mark of the second quarter and a 9-0 Roadrunners’ lead.

Late in the half, Morgan Park missed a golden opportunity when an open Chris Durr dropped a likely touchdown reception. Nazareth made the Mustangs pay when Jake Pinckney returned a punt 56 yards to set up Alex Angulo’s 6-yard touchdown run and a 15-0 halftime advantage.

The Roadrunners then took the second-half kickoff and went on a 10-play, 58-yard drive that took four and a half minutes. Taylor capped it with a 5-yard touchdown burst up the middle.

“Our guys were a little skittish and unsure of themselves offensively in the first half,” said Nazareth coach Tim Racki. “At halftime, we calmed them down and said we needed them, and you saw a different offensive line and run game in the second half.”

Morgan Park’s offense came to life on the next possession, buoyed by some strong runs by Jovan Clark. The Mustangs drove down to the Nazareth 1, but Clark lost a yard on each of his next two carries. Then on fourth and goal from the 3, Thaxton was picked off in the end zone by Penley, who returned it 55 yards.

That play helped set up Nazareth’s final touchdown, a 7-yard run by Angulo with 7:04 to go in regulation.

“[Nazareth defensive coordinator] Keith Lukes came up with a tremendous game plan,” Racki said. “We knew they had the most speed we’ve seen since Kankakee [in Week 1]. We had to play fast, and it was an incredible defensive performance. I didn’t think we’d shut them out.”

Nazareth, which improved to 29-4 in state playoff games under Racki, advances to the Class 5A state semifinals and will visit the North Bracket’s top seed, Sycamore (12-0), a 28-0 winner over Sterling in its quarterfinal, on Nov. 19 at 2 p.m.