Nazareth’s Zach Hayes makes a catch during a 37-7 win over Benet on Oct. 21. Photo by Steve Metsch
Nazareth steamrolls into playoffs with rout of Benet
By Steve Metsch
When Nazareth coach Tim Racki was piecing together the Roadrunners’ 2022 schedule, he wanted to ensure the Roadrunners would be battle-tested by season’s end.
He loaded the schedule with games against 2021 Class 5A runner-up Kankakee, perennial power Lemont and tough Catholic League opponents including Marist and St. Rita. After a 2-0 opening win over the Kays on opening night, the Roadrunners lost at home to Lemont, the RedHawks and the Mustangs.
The challenge paid off, as Nazareth (5-4) rallied from a 1-3 start to the season and being on the brink of playoff elimination at 2-4 to make the Class 5A field with a 37-7 win over Benet in the final regular-season game Oct. 21 at Benedictine University.
“I’ve never seen a tougher schedule for a Nazareth football team, Weeks 1 through 6,” Racki said after the victory. “You’ve got to be resilient and hang in there and they did. If you had an easy schedule, especially with these young guys, that’s when you get a false confidence heading into the playoffs.
Nazareth scored on each of its first five possessions. Sophomore quarterback Logan Malachuk threw three touchdown passes and Justin Taylor scored twice. Nazareth piled up 316 yards on offense and held Benet to 87.
Racki was all smiles after the game when he reminded his team that “everyone is now 0-0.”
The Roadrunners lived up to their name and started fast, capping the opening 80-yard drive with a 7-yard scoring strike from Malachuk to Taylor with 6:42 left in the first quarter.
After a bad snap led to a blocked punt, Nazareth was at Benet’s 46. Taylor soon ran in from 4 yards out with 10:39 left in the second quarter to lead 14-0.
Malachuk hit Hayes with a 14-yard touchdown pass with 4:40 left for a 21-0 lead, then zipped a TD pass from 11 yards to a wide-open James Penley for a 28-0 halftime advantage.
Penley, a sophomore who had 70 yards on four receptions, said the team’s rough start this season “doesn’t reflect the work these boys put in.”
“We’re a brotherhood,” he added. “We knew if we put our heads down and continued to work, it was going to be a success.”
Malachuk, who was 17 of 25 for 239 yards, agreed.
“We’re battle-tested,” the sophomore quarterback said. “Even when stuff doesn’t go our way, we bounce back because we’ve been through it. We trust each other. That’s what it’s all about, and now we’re clicking.”
A 2-yard plunge by freshman Edward McClain Jr. made it 35-0 with 6:53 left in the third.
Benet’s Ryan Kubacki spoiled the shutout with a 1-yard run with 2:56 left to play.
Redwings Coach Pat New called Nazareth sophomore Gabe Kaminski the best defensive end he has seen this season. Kaminski had a big sack early in the game and was in the Benet backfield all night.
Kaminski had six tackles, three sacks and was credited with a safety.
“We bonded together as a team,” Kaminski said of the Roadrunners’ three-game winning streak to qualify for the playoffs. “That’s how we did it.”
Taylor, who had five receptions for 100 yards and next year will play at Wisconsin, said Nazareth planned to come out fast.
“Even if the car breaks down, never take your foot off the gas,” he added. “We’re really dangerous. Everybody kind of overlooks us because we were 5-4 in the regular season, but if you look at it, we played a really tough schedule. We’re always in the fight.”
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