Nazareth players Garrett Reese and Eddie McClain celebrate after the latter scored a touchdown during the Roadrunners’ 38-31 win over Wheaton St. Francis in the Class 5A semifinals on Nov. 18. Photo by Xavier Sanchez
Nazareth enacts vengeance on St. Francis, will play for second straight state title
By Xavier Sanchez
After an 0-4 start to the season, Nazareth went on an improbable run to land a playoff spot.
Then, they made the most of their opportunity.
The Roadrunners defeated Wheaton St. Francis, 38-31, in the IHSA Class 5A semifinals on Nov. 18 and will play for a second consecutive state championship. They will battle Joliet Catholic at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 25 at Hancock Stadium on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal.
“We learned from failure,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said of how his team recovered from a start to the season that would probably have spelled doom for nearly 100% of other teams in Illinois. “We were built for this playoff run after this regular season.”
He cited the Roadrunners schedule — the toughest in the state, according to the IHSA’s “playoff points” awarded for the collective victories of a team’s opponents — as helping build the team’s toughness. After being winless through four games, they won four straight — including a one-point triumph over Brother Rice in Week 6 — to even their record heading into the regular season finale.
But the defending Class 5A state champions’ 2023 season appeared to be finished, as far as the IHSA playoffs were concerned, when Wheaton St. Francis beat them, 35-17, in the regular season finale.
Racki sat down with his team after that loss to address what he referred to as not playing the Roadrunners way. They squeaked into the playoffs because of their playoff points, but as a four-win team their path to the postseason was cleared as much by other teams’ failures as anything they did themselves.
They have capitalized on that good fortune, and maintaining the Roadrunner way has not been a problem as they embark on their third attempt at back-to-back state titles in the past nine seasons. Nazareth won championships in 2014 and 2015, and after winning its third in 2018 finished runner-up the following year.
In the semifinal win over the Spartans, Nazareth never trailed. The Roadrunners built a 17-0 lead on a field goal, 52-yard touchdown run by Lesroy Tittle and 34-yard rushing touchdown by junior quarterback Logan Malachuk.
St. Francis quarterback Alessio Milivojevic tossed a 55-yard TD pass to Zach Washington and a 46-yard scoring pass by Ian Willis to bookend an 11-yard TD run by Nazareth’s Edward McClain Jr.
With the Roadrunners leading 24-17 in the third quarter, Malachuk ran 25 yards for a score. Tittle found the end zone again on a 2-yard to push the Roadrunners to a 38-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Spartans made it a one-score game again when Miliojevic tossed a 28-yard pass to Ian Willis with three minutes to go, but that would be the last time their offense possessed the ball.
Nazareth rushed for 227 yards and five touchdowns.
“Everyone is a weapon,” Malachuk said. “I fully believe we have the best receiving corps and best offense in the state. At any moment, anyone can get the ball and score, and we proved that today.”
Racki applauded his team’s effort and ability to have flexibility drawing up plays.
“When you have the amount of skilled players that we have that are talented and selfless, it is fun to game-plan those situations,” he said. “We do want to stay balanced and not rely on the run or the pass.
“When you put it into Logan’s hands, you can see he is athletic but he is an incredible, smart decision-maker as a quarterback and leader. He’s got the intangibles as well as the athleticism.”
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