After an incredibly challenging regular-season schedule, the Nazareth Academy football team fittingly had one of the toughest first-round assignments of the state playoffs.
The battle-tested Roadrunners responded with an impassive 35-28 Class 5A road victory at previously undefeated Prairie Ridge, last year’s 6A state runner-up, by scoring back-to-back touchdowns after entering the fourth quarter tied 21-21.
Nazareth (5-5), a No. 15 seed, comes home for the second round against No. 7 Glenbard South (9-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday.
During the regular season, Nazareth played seven playoff qualifiers and two 4-5 teams that did not qualify for the IHSA postseason.
“We were very confident (Saturday). It’s not lost on my players is they know they’ve been in dogfights from Week 1 through Week 9,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said.
“Leading into that experience and having that endurance of so many close games, but also physically and mentally taxing games. You hope it comes to a certain role in the playoffs and it certainly helped us.”
Junior quarterback Logan Malachuk had a direct hand in all five Nazareth TDs, completing 23 of 32 passes for 257 yards and 3 TDs and rushing for 63 yards on five carries with 2 TDs.
Malachuk threw a 2-yard TD pass to Trenton Walker for a 28-21 lead and then added a 22-yard TD run for a 35-21 advantage. Walker had 10 catches for 122 yards.
Nazareth never led in the first half. Malachuk threw a 20-yard TD pass to Jake Cestone for a 7-7 tie and 43-yard TD pass to Walker for a 14-14 tie.
Malachuk’s 1-yard TD run put Nazareth ahead 21-14 in the third quarter. Andrew Fowler converted all five extra points.
“Logan did a tremendous job of not only reading the defenses, his accuracy was on fire, but also running when the defense was dropping back,” Racki said.
Defensively, senior Gabe Kaminski of Riverside had 13 tackles and Garrett Reese and Ethan Enriquez each had eight and James Penley a tackle for loss. The Roadrunners were plus-3 in turnovers with fumble recoveries by Reese, Brendan Flanagan and Dominic Chiaramonte.
“Defensively we played solid assignment football. That’s what we had to do against a triple option team,” Racki said.
Last year, Nazareth beat Glenbard South 48-22 in the opening playoff round. This season’s Raiders only have lost to 7A qualifier Glenbard East 28-14 Oct. 13 and beat 5-4 qualifiers East Aurora and West Chicago. They’ve scored at least 35 points in eight victories and held seven opponents to 14 points or fewer with three shutouts.
The Nazareth girls cross country qualified for its fourth straight IHSA 2A state meet by taking fourth at the Trinity Sectional Saturday at Lewis University.
Freshman Sophia Towne (13th, 19:23.30 for 3.0 miles), senior Jane McNamara (16th, 19:45.80) and freshman Allie O’Halloran (17th, 19:47.50) were top 20, followed by senior Hannah McCarthy (22nd, 20:04.90), freshman Julia Parkes (29th, 20:32.70), junior Sarah Owen (43rd, 21:15.30) and freshman Ashley Kenna (44th, 21:16.70).
In the boys race, sophomore Daniel Lewis of Brookfield was 33rd (16:45.70) to qualify individually by being among the top 10 individuals not on the seven advancing teams. Other finishers for the 11th-place Roadrunners (334) were freshman Lucas Weber (69th, 18:01.80), senior Hagan Perfect (72nd, 18:10.00), junior Liam Smith (90th, 18:37.20), sophomores Drew Hyland (93rd, 18:42.10) and Aaron Martinez (94th, 18:43.50) and junior Tyler Aulinskis (109th, 19:12.70).
The Roadrunners (13-23), last year’s 3A state runners-up, lost to Willowbrook 25-13, 25-15 in the 4A Willowbrook Regional finals Thursday. No. 2-seed Willowbrook (37-1) plays No. 1-seed Oak Park and River Forest for the Hinsdale Central Sectional title Wednesday.