By Marty Farmer
Known for having one of the most potent offenses in the state, the Nazareth Academy football team's defense came through when it mattered most against Simeon in the IHSA Class 7A quarterfinals at Gately Stadium on Nov. 10.
The Roadrunners stuffed Simeon on two runs inside the 3-yard line in the closing seconds of the game to secure a 34-27 win.
With no timeouts remaining, Simeon couldn't get off one more play as time expired. The pair of previous stops were both impressive and timely considering the Wolverines' Alante Brown led his team down the field 80 yards with less than two minutes remaining.
Brown, a Michigan State recruit, is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback who accounted for three touchdowns Saturday.
"Our defense has pulled through all season," Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. "Stopping that run on the goal line really demonstrated the grit they have. It helped that our offense milked quite a bit off of the clock before we scored."
Of course, Nazareth (11-1) has plenty of star power as well. Two-way players Michael Love and Diamond Evans turned in terrific performances against the Wolverines.
After Simeon established a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter, Nazareth responded with 21 unanswered points in the second quarter.
Love had a 75-yard punt return and 25-yard reception (both for TDs) during the Roadrunners' rally. Evans picked off a pass by Brown, setting up the Roadrunners' first touchdown (Derrick Strongs, 3-yard TD run).
With Nazareth up 21-14, the teams locked into a seesaw battle for the remainder of the game. After the Wolverines tied the score 21-21 on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Brown, Nazareth quarterback J.J. McCarthy connected with Evans on a 31-yard TD pass to regain the lead at 28-21. Brown struck again on a successful 9-yard throw into the end zone; however, Simeon missed the extra point attempt.
Leading 28-27, Love caught a 17-yard pass from McCarthy for the game's final score, extending the Roadrunners' lead to 34-27.
Love finished with 5 catches for 65 yards and three touchdowns, while Evans caught four passes for 68 yards. Wide receivers Tyler Morris (5 catches, 54 yards) and Brevin Reifsteck (5 catches, 37 yards) also contributed.
McCarthy completed 19 of 24 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns.
While most of the Roadrunners' offensive production was via the passing game, running backs Alex Carrillo (9 carries, 47 yards) and Dylan Smith (8 carries, 27 yards) gained some hard yards between the tackles.
"We always want to be balanced, but the offensive line really came on strong at the end with our run game to drain the clock down," Racki said. "Our plan was to stay balanced to keep them honest, but being down 14 early we relied more on our pass game."
Nazareth will host Batavia in the 7A semifinals on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 1 p.m. at Valenta Stadium at Nazareth Academy, 1209 W. Ogden Ave. in LaGrange Park. Mount Carmel (11-1) takes on host St. Charles North (9-3) in the other semifinal.
Batavia (12-0), the 7A defending champion, edged Willowbrook 34-27 in overtime in the quarterfinals.
"Two strong programs with a lot of experience on this type of stage," Racki said about the Nazareth-Batavia matchup. "Defensively, their front seven is one of the tops in the state. Offensively, they are very balanced with a strong line and run game. Their quarterback [Jack Meyers] is a dual threat who makes excellent decisions."