By Marty Farmer
Pick a playmaker, any playmaker. That's the problem opposing teams have had to deal with against Nazareth all season. If one or two Roadrunners are contained, a handful of others do damage.
Quarterback J.J. McCarthy, running back Derrick Strongs and wide receivers Diamond Evans, Tyler Morris and Breven Reifsteck fuel a diversified and explosive offense.
Defensively, Marcus Griffin, Louie Stec, and Cam Leach anchor a formidable unit as well. And don't forget standout senior Michael Love, a Division I college recruit who plays wide receiver/running back, defensive back and special teams.
The Roadrunners' depth and versatility were on display during their 49-14 win over visiting Hersey on Nov. 3 in the second-round of the IHSA Class 7A playoffs.
"It allows us to be creative in terms of game planning," Nazareth coach Tim Racki said about the Roadrunners' array of difference-makers. "We utilize our talent in various ways in all three phases of the game."
Love and McCarthy turned in nearly perfect performances against Hersey.
He scored two touchdowns on an 83-yard punt return and 50-yard catch, caught three passes for 64 yards and forced a fumble preventing the Huskies from scoring a TD.
"Michael continues to dominate in all three phases," Racki said. "The fumble he created at the goal line was a defining moment for us and secured the momentum we had. He not only leads my example, but really instills that confidence a team needs for this type of run."
McCarthy completed 15 of 16 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 21 yards and a score on five carries.
"J.J. continues to learn and improve each week," Racki said. "Against Hersey, he was focused on what the defense was giving him in terms of coverage and blitzes. He did an excellent job of hitting his underneath routes and perimeter throws when they were taking away our deep routes."
Through 11 games this season, the sophomore signal caller has completed 124 of 169 passes (73.3 percent) for 2,545 yards, 31 TDs and two interceptions.
Against Hersey, Evans had five receptions for 132 yards and Morris caught four passes for 78 yards. Along with Love, each had a touchdown reception. Strongs rushed for 79 yards on seven carries to lead a ground attack, which used nine ball carriers.
On Nov. 3, Nazareth jumped out to a 14-0 lead on 1-yard TD runs by Dylan Smith and Evans in the first quarter. The Roadrunners kept scoring in the second quarter on Love's aforementioned punt return Morris' 50-yard catch to build a 28-0 advantage at halftime.
Hersey quarterback Ryan Justice (19-for-31, 276 yards) threw a 3-yard TD pass to Kacper Rutkiewicz (8 catches, 72 yards) to put the Huskies on the scoreboard at 28-7 in the third quarter.
The Roadrunners responded with a pair of touchdown passes to Love (50 yards) and Evans (80) to put the game away at 42-7 after three quarters.
The teams exchanged a TD apiece in the fourth quarter for a 49-14 final.
Reflective of the score, Nazareth edged the Huskies statistically. Nazareth had more yards of total offense (507-301) and first downs (22-16), plus a better third-down conversion rate (57 percent to 46 percent).
Nazareth (10-1), which moved up from 6A to 7A this year, advances to the quarterfinals. Top-seeded Simeon awaits the Roadrunners.
Like Nazareth, Simeon (11-0) features a lot of scoring threats. Quarterback Alante Brown (Michigan State recruit), running back DeAngelo Hudson and wide receivers Rashaan Palmer, DeKari Waight and Derek Flowers ensure the Roadrunners' defense will need to account for multiple players.
"Excellent skill and great size up front for Simeon," Racki said about the upcoming opponent. "There will be lots of speed on both sides. I believe it will come down to both teams limiting the big-play potential each side of capable of."
The Wolverines will host the game at Gately Stadium in Chicago on Nov. 10 at 1 p.m.