Even after losing its important regular-season finale Friday, Nazareth Academy football players knew there still was hope.

The defending Class 5A state champions were beaten by St. Francis 35-17, leaving them with a 4-5 overall record but while also playing arguably the toughest schedule in the state.

“We knew our playoff points were incredibly high, so we were pretty confident we could get in,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said.

The Roadrunners have received that chance.

This year, they are a No. 15 seed in their half of the bracket and open with a premier matchup at powerful No. 2 Prairie Ridge (9-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday. The winner gets No. 7 Glenbard South (8-1) or No. 10 Noble/UIC (7-2) in the second round.

In 2022, Nazareth won state as a No. 11 seed that finished 5-4 during the regular season by winning its last three games.

Meanwhile, Prairie Ridge is in 5A after three state titles and two second-place finishes since 2011 all in 6A. The Wolves lost the 2022 6A state championship game to East St. Louis 57-7 after being undefeated.

With 4-5 records, six teams actually made the playoffs this season based upon those with the most playoff points – the combined total of victories by their nine opponents.

Gabe Kaminski

The Roadrunners’ 56 playoff points are the highest of any team among the eight classes. Their schedule included wins over playoff-bound St. Ignatius (6-3) and Brother Rice (5-4) and losses to undefeated Kankakee, 8-1 York, 7-2 St. Francis and IC Catholic Prep and 6-3 Montini. They beat Brother Rice 31-30 while losing to Montini 24-23 and ICCP 36-34.

“Every season is different. We went from 0-4 to 4-4 and ran into a buzz saw with St. Francis,” Racki said.

Defensive standouts include end Gabe Kaminski (72 total tackles, 13 sacks, forced fumble), linebacker Brendan Flanagan (56 tackles, 5 sacks), defensive lineman Nolan Daly (37 tackles) and defensive backs Eddie McClain (35 tackles, interception) and Garrett Reese (20 tackles, interception).

Top offensive players include quarterback Logan Malachuk (151 for 249 passing, 2,108 yards, 22 touchdowns, 2 interceptions), wide receivers Jimmy Penley (50 catches, 804 yards, 6 TDs), Jake Cestone (30 catches, 535 yards, 9 TDs), Trenton Walker (24 catches, 292 yards, 3 TDs), running backs Lesroy Tittle (44 carries, 260 yards, 4 TDs) and Alex Angulo (63 carries, 198 yards, 3 TDs) and linemen Sam Stec and Cullen Craig.

Prairie Ridge again dominated the Fox Valley Conference, outscoring opponent 324-81. Other than the Week 5 21-20 victory over Cary-Grove, no opponent scored more than 14 points.