After junior Jimmy Penley’s key reception for the Nazareth Academy football team in the final minutes of Saturday’s Class 5A state quarterfinal, he rose slowly and momentarily left the game.
“It was a case of getting the wind knocked out of me. I got hit from behind,” Penley said. “I just had to get to the sidelines, get a drink of water. Then once I got my wind back, I was good to go.
Five plays later, Penley needed to catch his breath again.
Penley and teammates were ecstatic after his 27-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Logan Malachuk with 46 seconds remaining that gave the Roadrunners a wild 21-17 victory at Carmel in Mundelein.
“It was really rewarding. A close game, ups and downs, so to get it done at the end felt really nice,” Penley said.
“Just kind of a surreal experience putting a late touchdown in. I was just really excited, wanted to celebrate with my team and get back on defense to try and seal the game.”
Nazareth (7-5), the defending 5A state champion, plays host to St. Francis (10-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday in the semifinals. The winner meets Joliet Catholic (9-3) or Providence (8-4) for the state championship Nov. 25 in Normal.
In the Oct. 20 regular-season finale, the Spartans beat the Roadrunners 35-17 in LaGrange Park, their only loss in the last eight games after an 0-4 start.
Carmel (10-2) went ahead 17-14 with 3:05 left on a 37-yard field goal, but Nazareth covered 72 yards on 11 plays to regain the lead.
“It was an instant epic classic game. Fun football,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said.
“Sure enough (on Penley’s TD), the middle of the field was wide open because they were protecting the sidelines. And give credit to Logan and Jimmy for the route and the throw. It was just a dart, perfectly executed.”
In the final seconds, Carmel drove to its 47 but wide-open 6-foot-2 Kai Owens couldn’t secure a high pass over the middle.
Enter Penley again as cornerback. He made his second interception of the season at the Nazareth 37 to seal the victory.
“It was a great play call. The ball just happened to slip through his hands and I was able to make the play,” Penley said. “I guess it’s just really a blessing. I didn’t have the first half that I wanted and teammates were picking up the slack. The second half, to go out and perform to my standards, was awesome.”
Malachuk was 25 for 46 passing for 309 yards. Penley (105 yards on 7 catches) had four catches for 51 yards on the game-winning drive.
The Roadrunners reached the 22 after a 15-yard pass interference penalty but then had two incompletions. The TD came on third-and-15 after the Roadrunners took a delay of game penalty rather than burn its timeout.
“I kind of wanted that timeout because I knew we could at least get half of that third-and-15 to get in field-goal range (to tie),” Racki said.
Nazareth led 14-7 at halftime on a 44-yard TD pass to Trenton Walker (140 yards, 9 catches) and 4-yard TD run by Lesroy Tittle. Andrew Fowler kicked all three extra points.
But 29.3 seconds before halftime, Nazareth went for it on fourth down at the 8 and Malachuk and Walker just missed connecting in the end zone. Carmel tied the game on its opening drive of the second half.
“I made a horrible call not going for a field goal,” Racki said. “I thought we could score and I told my kids at halftime I completely blew that call by becoming greedy.”
The defense held Carmel to its lowest point total since the 37-16 loss to Mt. Carmel in Week 5.
Before the field goal, the Corsairs started at the Nazareth 23 after a 32-yard punt return. Following two running plays to the 20, safety Edward McClain Jr. made another key play of the game by breaking up the well-placed, third-down pass to Owens at the 5.
“We’re a big bend, don’t break defense so we’re prepared as a unit whenever we’re needed,” Penley said.