Nazareth opens with a rout
Defense and offense shine in 47-6 win
By Steve Metsch
Nazareth’s high-powered offense has deserved the spotlight this season, often salting away victories by halftime.
But it’s time to share the spotlight.
The stifling defense often helped set up Nazareth’s explosive offense that scored six first-half touchdowns for a 47-6 trouncing of Libertyville in the Class 7A playoff opener at La Grange Park.
Junior quarterback J.J. McCarthy tossed four touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Landon Morris scored twice.
Nazareth (10-0) will host Thornton, a 35-19 winner over Pekin, in the next round. The date and time will be announced today, Nov. 4.
Thornton may be in for a long day against Nazareth’s first-team defense that has allowed just one touchdown in the past three games.
Libertyville quarterback Blake Ellingson had little room to roam Saturday thanks to Nazareth’s swarming defense. Nazareth won its Class 7A playoff opener, 47-6. Photo by Steve Metsch.
Head Coach Tim Racki likes his “faceless, nameless defense. We don’t call them starters because so many kids contribute.”
The only touchdown Libertyville (5-5) scored was when junior quarterback Blake Ellingson dashed 60 yards down the sideline to open the second quarter.
But that was it. Ellingson was scrambling all day thanks to the defensive line. Malik Poe-Roland, Kaleb Miller and Daine Hanson notched sacks.
Senior defense back Breven Reifsteck, whose fourth-quarter interception return closed the scoring, said: “Our offense is outstanding … but the saying is ‘defense wins championships’.”
“Because (Coach) Racki came from a defensive background, he emphasizes get to the ball, everyone do their job. He stresses that every day,” Reifsteck said.
“Our defensive line coach, Coach (Joe) Battaglia is really good at getting our defensive linemen in and out, depending on the situation whether they’re going to pass or we need a run stop.
“Same thing with our DBs. Our defensive coordinator, Coach (Jeff) Tumpane is really good at subbing. It’s all about keeping the fresh guys out there,” Reifsteck said.
Reifsteck is glad he and fellow defenders Alex Carrillo and Tyler Morris seldom rest: “I love hitting people. Hitting people is really fun.”
Libertyville got what it anticipated, Head Coach Mike Jones said.
“They’re a good team. We knew that coming in Unfortunately, we had a couple (missed) plays in the first half,” he said referring to two botched passes to open receiver Dylan Drumke.
“Not that it would have changed the outcome, but I think it would have made it a little more competitive.”
Racki was “very happy with our execution,” notably a strong running game led by Derrick Strongs, Jr., who opened the scoring with a 68-yard run on Nazareth’s first play from scrimmage.
On Libertyville’s next possession, Carrillo intercepted a pass at Nazareth’s 33-yard line. After he ran for 14-yards and McCarthy for 11, Strongs ran for 36 yards to put the ball at the 6.
Receiver Tanner Koziol (right) and quarterback J.J. McCarthy celebrate a touchdown that gave Nazareth a 21-0 lead. McCarthy threw four TD passes. Photo by Steve Metsch.
McCarthy zipped a pass to Tyler Morris for a 14-0 lead. The next possession resulted in a 12-yard TD pass to Tanner Koziol. Both were into gusty winds.
“The high-level velocity he has, it doesn’t matter if he’s throwing into the wind,” Racki said. “J.J. was on fire again. What a shocker.”
Racki praised Landon Morris, whose blocks, “those hidden things you don’t see,” opened lanes for receivers: “That’s why I’m glad to see him get those (touchdown) passes.”
The 6-foot-6 Morris, scored on touchdown passes of 19 and 9 yards in the second quarter.He had transferred to Nazareth from Indiana before the season began after his father’s job moved. He feels at home.
“I had a couple football camps with J.J. (McCarthy) and Ty (Morris) so I got to know them,” he said. “We’ve been improving all year. It’s just one step closer to greatness.”
Jones would not be surprised to see the Roadrunners repeat as state champ: “Nazareth is going to be a tough out.”
Always nervous before a playoff opener, Racki winced: “You don’t want kids looking ahead or thinking it’s going to be a layup.”
Slam-dunks? He’s okay with those.
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