Taking the fifth -- Nazareth celebrates winning its fifth state championship on Nov. 25 in Normal. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Taking the fifth -- Nazareth celebrates winning its fifth state championship on Nov. 25 in Normal. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Nazareth tops Joliet Catholic for historic title win

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By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

Nazareth football coach Tim Racki was bummed out.

The Roadrunners had completed an historic season by defeating Joliet Catholic for the IHSA Class 5A championship, becoming the first team in IHSA history to enter the playoffs 4-5 and win a state title. They are also the first team to win a state title after starting the season with four consecutive losses.

But Racki was bummed out because he is going to miss this team.

“I told the players that regardless of what was going to happen today I’m going to be bummed out after we celebrate, because it’s over,” he said. “This has not been easy and I’ve never been through anything like this. I’m old enough to have thought I’ve seen it all.”

Typical of the challenges it faced during a season in which it routinely overcame obstacles en route to the championship game, Nazareth faced a 13-point deficit  in the title game against the Hilltoppers.

But they — surprise, surprise — overcame that, too, and scored 31 unanswered points in what turned out to be a 38-20 victory at Hancock Stadium on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal.

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Nazareth coach Tim Racki soaks in the postgame celebration after the Roadrunners win their fifth state football championship on Nov. 25. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Junior quarterback Logan Malachuk threw for 414 yards and four touchdowns as the Roadrunners (9-5) exploded for 524 yards on offense. James Penley had seven catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns while Jake Cestone had four catches for 163 yards and a score.

On defense, Gabe Kaminski racked up 15 tackles, recovered a fumble and had a momentum-changing interception in the third quarter.

The recovery from an 0-4 start to the season and comeback in the championship game did not surprise Kaminski.

“It all starts from the brotherhood and the love that Coach Racki instills in us,” he said. “We had team-building during the summer. Everyone on this team would die for each other. We love each other and that’s what it really comes down to. There was no finger pointing at halftime. We tried to find solutions.”

Nazareth has won five state championship in seven title-game appearances.

It’s been a wild season for the Roadrunners, who in the first four weeks lost 33-26 loss to Kankakee, 42-13 to York, 24-23 to Montini and 36-34 to IC Catholic.

They followed it up with a 21-13 win over St. Ignatius, a 26-16 triumph over Fenwick, a 31-30 close shave against Brother Rice and a 42-13 victory over Marian Catholic to knot their record at 4-4.

The ninth game of the season seemingly was going to decide if they would be in with a 5-4 record or miss the cut with a 4-5 mark, and dropped a 35-17 decision to Wheaton St. Francis.

They were saved as one of six 4-5 teams that qualified for the postseason.

Their reward was a first-round trip to Prairie Grove, and when Nazareth came out a 35-28 winner in that game, it was a statement that this was not a team that was going to be an easy out — five losses or no five losses.

The Roadrunners swamped Glenbard South, 42-0; nipped Carmel, 21-17; and picked up revenge in the semifinals with a 38-31 win over St. Francis.

That set up the showdown with Joliet.

“It definitely was not easy,” Racki said. “It’s just like any family. We had fights. We had ups, we had downs. But the love for each other is something that never wavered at all.

“Once we got that confidence, it really became a special journey to be on.”

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Lesroy Tittle picks off a Joliet Catholic pass in Nazareth’s state title win. Photo by Jeff Vorva

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