High School Football Class 5A Quarterfinals: Pick-6 spells doom for Nazareth in loss to Fenwick
By Steve Metsch
Nazareth made it the Class 5A football quarterfinals with a solid defense and an impressive freshman quarterback.
In the end, however, that defense buckled and that quarterback looked like his age against a Fenwick team with 30 seniors on its roster. Friars senior defensive end Suleiman Abuaqel picked off a Logan Malachuk pass and returned it for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and the Roadrunners never got any closer as they fell, 28-17, on Nov. 13.
Nazareth’s season ends after a run in which they closed the regular season with four straight wins to make the playoffs, then advanced to the quarterfinals.
Fenwick (10-2) has a semifinal date with Sycamore.
“They’re probably going to win it all,” Malachuk said. “That defense. We hit two bombs, and they were still right there.”
Malachuk was 11-for-21 for 221 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions. None was costlier than the one on the play that opened the fourth quarter.
The Roadrunners (7-5) trailed 21-17 and had first-and-10 at Fenwick’s 39. The fans in La Grange Park were roaring.
Then, Abuaqel intercepted Malachuk’s screen pass over the middle and ran 55 yards the other way to give Fenwick a 28-17 lead with 11:46 to play.
Malachuk never saw Abuaqel
“That was on me,” he said. “I thought I could fit it in there. That was just a bad play all together.”
Abuaqel, who notched his first pick-six, said he saw a running back from the corner of his eye.
“So I just slid a little bit to the left, and the ball came right to me,” he added.
Malachuk threw touchdown passes of 44 and 51 yards to junior Justin Taylor. The first gave Nazareth a 7-0 lead, the second cut the deficit to 21-17.
Nazareth led 10-0 early after Zach Hayes kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:52 left in the first quarter.
Fenwick cut the lead to 10-7 when quarterback Kaden Cobb (21-of-24 for 144) scored from six yards out with 10:11 left in the second quarter.
With 45 seconds left, Cobb found Max Reese with a 19-yard touchdown pass to give Fenwick a 14-10 halftime lead.
Fenwick went up 21-10 with 7:32 left in the third, when Reese took a direct snap and flipped to Cobb, who found wide-open Patrick Durkin from 3 yards out.
Moments later, Malachuk showed what the Roadrunners can look forward to next season.
After Malachuk dropped and recovered the snap at Nazareth’s 49, he lofted the ball to Taylor around Fenwick’s 40. Taylor caught the ball and scored to cut the deficit to 21-17 with 6:48 left in the third quarter.
“We practice that every day,” Racki quipped. “He really grew up a lot this year. A freshman quarterback in the quarterfinals. He shouldn’t be hard on himself.
“Today doesn’t define us. This was a very successful season. After Week 1, I was, ‘Are we in a rebuild?’ When you get to the quarterfinals, that ain’t no rebuild.”
Taylor (4 catches, 113 yards) vowed he and the team will use the loss as fuel for next year.
Fenwick outgained the Road Runners, 368 yards to 282, and made 23 first downs to Nazareth’s nine.
Fenwick had 214 yards rushing. Danny Kent gained113 on 23 carries, and Cobb added 60 on 13. Nazareth managed just 52 yards rushing.