Nazareth Academy showed everyone this season that they could compete with the very best, but on a windy, rainy night in DeKalb, something had to give in a battle between two undefeated teams.
The Roadrunners (13-1) were defeated by Mt. Carmel (14-0), 37-13, Saturday in the 7A state championship game at Huskie Stadium. Down 14-7 with 4:33 to play in the first half, junior quarterback JJ McCarthy connected with senior running back Derrick Strongs Jr. for a 62-yard touchdown pass to keep the game within one point after a missed point after.
The Roadrunner defense kept the Caravan offense in check to start the second half, holding them to a field goal to stay within 10 with 8:13 to go in the third quarter, and to an unsuccessful field goal attempt on their next possession.
"Our defense played out of this world," McCarthy said. "They gave us the stops we needed, and our offense needed to execute more."
Nazareth couldn't hold on in the fourth quarter, as Mt. Carmel junior quarterback Justin Lynch rushed for two touchdowns in the last six minutes to seal their victory. Lynch finished with five rushing touchdowns on the night.
McCarthy went 8-for-25 with 116 yards passing, while sophomore wide receiver Tyler Morris nabbed three catches for 24 yards. Strongs finished with 24 yards on six carries to go with two receptions for 66 yards. On defense, senior linebacker Marcus Griffin led the team with 11 tackles, while senior linebacker Riley Theobald tallied seven.
"It was tough stopping [Mt. Carmel's] running game," Griffin said. "We stopped them when we needed to, but overall things didn't go our way."
Nazareth opened the scoring in the game with an explosive 65-yard interception return by freshman defensive back Kaleb Miller with 9:18 left to play in the first quarter.
"I could tell that our team was a little down, so I wanted to be the spark," Miller said. "I baited the quarterback a little bit and just ran up and took it home. I really give props to our line on that one. They put a lot of pressure on [Lynch] and he had to get rid of it quick."
Mt. Carmel head coach Jordan Lynch knew that the Roadrunners, who have played in the state title game in five of the last six seasons and won three, would not be an easy foe by any means.
"We knew coming into this game that Nazareth would be a tough opponent," said Lynch. "They won state last year, they came in with an undefeated record, and we knew we would have our hands full. [Head coach Tim] Racki does a great job over there."
McCarthy knows that this team can bounce back next year, as they will be returning eight starters on offense.
"The things we're going to do next year are going to be scary, I can tell you that," said McCarthy. "Next year is going to be tremendous. We're going to have a lot of up and coming freshman and sophomores and a lot of players coming back, and it's going to be huge. We're going to push all summer and be ready."
"We got better every week this season, and we're still going on track," he added. "There's just 364 days until we come back here in this spot, and it's going to be a different outcome."