Strongs’ four TDs lead Nazareth
Defense silences Thornton in second half, 49-21
By Steve Metsch
Nazareth needed four touchdowns from senior running back Derrick Strongs, Jr., – and one momentum changing sack – to silence an inspired Thornton team on Nov. 9.
Host Nazareth (11-0) won the Class 7A second-round playoff game, 49-21, however the silence was overwhelming when Thornton (8-3) led 6-0 and 14-7 early.
The explosive Roadrunners scored seven touchdowns against Thornton, but a defensive play proved the spark.
The score was tied 14-14 late in the second half when defensive lineman Malik Poe-Roland and Lukas Salaviejus charged through the line and sacked quarterback Derrick Williams, Jr.
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Nazareth defensive lineman Malik Poe-Roland (right) and Lukas Salaviejus teamed for this big sack of Thornton quarterback Derrick Williams, Jr., in Saturday’s playoff game. Photo by Steve Metsch.
The 12-yard loss gave Thornton fourth-and-21 at its own 21. The punt led to Nazareth taking the lead.
“I exploded out,” Salaviejus said, “and I saw Malik crashing in. The quarterback panicked and we wrapped his legs. It was exactly how it is in practice, how we imagine it every single day.”
He smiled when reminded Head Coach Tim Racki yelled “Let’s be dogs now” to the defense before the key series began.
“That’s our mentality,” he said. “We want to be beasts out there.”
The “beasts” held Thornton to 4-of-14 on third-down. Nazareth outgained Thornton, 422 yards to 364, running just 48 plays to Thornton’s 74.
After the sack and a punt, a 47-yard pass from J.J. McCarthy to Isaiah Emanuel put the ball on the 6. The Roadrunners took a 21-14 lead after Strongs’ five-yard TD run with 53 seconds left in the half.
That was the second of Strongs’ four touchdowns. His favorite? “Probably the first one.” That was a 56-yard rumble that gave Nazareth a 7-6 lead with 8:24 left in the first quarter.
“I saw the big guys to the side the play was going to. I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll have a cutback lane.’ Once I saw it, it opened up like I pictured it in my head and I just took off,” Strongs said.
He added scoring runs of 60 and four yards in the third quarter.
“I told (the linemen) after every touchdown, every run I had, as long as you guys (block for me), I’ll run my heart out for you. And that’s what I did,” Strongs said. “It all starts with them.”
Racki joked Strongs, named player of the game, “owes his offensive linemen dinner.”
“He deserves this. He’s been getting better each week. His explosion through the hole. His vision. His cutback ability. His speed. His confidence. He had a game,” Racki said.
Derrick Strongs, Jr., breaks through the Thornton line during a 60-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, one of four touchdowns he scored in a 49-21 win Saturday. Photo by Steve Metsch.
Saturday’s early struggles were more about Thornton’s quarterback, Racki said.
“That quarterback is really good. That was objective on defense, to stop the quarterback. He’s tough. We knew that. It took us a while to catch up to him.”
Williams was 12-for-32 for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Grant Alexander, Jr. caught two touchdown passes.
Thornton Head Coach Dontrell Jackson told his players he was “proud of them,” adding “you fought hard.”
By his standards, McCarthy had a quiet day. He was 11-for-16 for 215 yards and one touchdown, a 42-yarder to Tyler Morris.
“Derrick had an awesome game. If they’re going to give us that look every single time, we’re going to take it every single time,” McCarthy said.
“It’s always good to get (a win), but we’re not satisfied. We’ve got a lot to do,” McCarthy said.
Rounding out the scoring was a one-yard plunge by Alex Carrillo; and a nine-yard run by Amarion Evans.
Next up – at 1 p.m. this Saturday in La Grange Park – is a Class 7A quarterfinal against Batavia. It’s a rematch of last year’s semifinal won 47-28 by host Nazareth. Nazareth won Class 7A last year, Batavia won it in 2017.
“They’re an incredible program … Always physical” Racki said. “They’re just loaded every year.”
The teams are very similar, according to stats found on www.maxpreps.com.
Batavia (9-2) is 5-0 on the road. Batavia has scored 397 points and allowed 147 points. Nazareth (11-0) is 7-0 at home this season. The Roadrunners have scored 394 points and have allowed 112.
Desplaines Valley News
Email Steve Metsch at email@example.com