By Melvin Tate
It didn't take long for Nazareth Academy's football team to cement itself a position in the state finals last weekend.
The Roadrunners erupted for 28 points in the first quarter en route to a 42-14 win against the Rolling Meadows (12-1) in a Class 7A semifinal.
"I emphasized a fast start on the road this week," said Nazareth head coach Tim Racki. "We were going to a hostile environment and they had a big crowd. When you silence a big crowd early, that helps your momentum and we certainly did that. I'm proud of our kids because we never gave the momentum up."
Junior quarterback J.J. McCarthy (20-of-27, 352 yards passing, 5 TDs) had plenty to do with the Roadrunners' fast start as the Michigan recruit threw for four touchdowns in the first quarter. All of McCarthy's touchdowns went to Tyler Morris who also had nine receptions for 229 yards receiving.
First Half: McCarthy was perfect in the first quarter, going 8-of-8 for 189 yards and four touchdowns.
Rolling Meadows attempted a trick play on the game's first play from scrimmage, but the Mustangs fumbled the lateral and it was recovered by Nazareth defensive end Daine Hanson. Two plays later, Nazareth took a 7-0 lead when McCarthy connected with Morris on a 7-yard screen pass to the right for a touchdown.
"We were ready for that play. We thought they'd try to get us early on a trick play and sure enough they tried it," Racki said. "But we were ready, and it worked out in our favor."
After Nazareth defensive back Kaleb Miller intercepted Mustangs' quarterback Carson Schiller at the Rolling Meadows 35, McCarthy found Morris on a deep post pattern for a 35-yard touchdown strike.
McCarthy and Morris found the house two more times in the quarter. On a fourth and 22 play from the Rolling Meadows' 26, McCarthy escaped trouble and found Morris for a 26-yard touchdown at the 5-minute mark, then with 1:30 left, the duo struck yet again, this time for a 33-yard touchdown. The Roadrunners led 28-0, stunning the large home crowd.
"The offense got into a rhythm. J.J. was comfortable in the pocket and got great protection," said Racki. "Tyler had a Hall of Fame game, which is no surprise because I see it every day in practice. He works so hard."
The second quarter didn't go in favor of Rolling Meadows either. Nazareth added to its lead when Alex Carillo found the end zone from three yards out to give the Roadrunners a 35-0 lead after halftime.
Early in the third, McCarthy and Morris connected one more time on a screen pass that turned into a 61-yard touchdown. The play raised the score to 42-0 Nazareth with 9:42 to go and initiated a mandatory running clock for the remainder of the game. The Mustangs scored twice (Schiller finished the game competing 10 of 16 passes for 138 yards, 2 TD and 2 INT) after that but, Racki's team had already secured the victory.
"They listen. They're mature and know how to have fun, they're not too tense or tight," said Racki. "It's a professional and mature team. I'm an intense coach and I think they need that, but we try to strike a balance between how they are and how I am."
Up next, 7A title game: Nazareth advances to the IHSA Class 7A state title game where it will look to defend its crown against a traditionally competitive Mount Carmel program.
The owner of 12 state championships, the Caravan hasn't missed a beat since legendary coach Frank Lenti was replaced after the 2017 season by one of his former players, Jordan Lynch. Mount Carmel (13-0) reached the 7A semifinals last year, and defeated Willowbrook on Nov. 23 by a score of 27-6 to reach this year's final. The Caravan is led by QB Justin Lynch, Jordan's younger brother, and has a physical and quick defense.
This is certainly a stiff challenge for the Roadrunners, and Racki knows it.
"They're the No. 1 seed for a reason, and I get why we're the underdog," said Racki. "They have kids that can make plays on both sides of the ball, and we have our work cut out for us. But we're very happy because if your season ends on the last day of high school football, there are no losers."
Game time is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30 at Northern Illinois University's Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.