Team captain Zach Hayes holds the trophy as Coach Tim Racki and the Roadrunners celebrate the school’s fourth state football championship in nine seasons, and first since 2018. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Team captain Zach Hayes holds the trophy as Coach Tim Racki and the Roadrunners celebrate the school’s fourth state football championship in nine seasons, and first since 2018. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Nazareth rally celebrates fourth state football championship

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Sophomore quarterback Logan Malachuk is congratulated by Nazareth Principal Therese Hawkins on Monday. He scored two touchdowns and threw for two more to be named Player of the Game after a thrilling 45-44 win over Peoria earned the Class 5A state title on Nov. 26.

By Steve Metsch

Two huge cheers rocked the Rooney Student Center at Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park late Monday morning.

The first was when Zach Hayes – joined by the coaches and teammates – walked in carrying the IHSA Class 5A state football championship trophy high over his head.

The second was when school principal Therese Hawkins made a special announcement.

“As you know, it’s a great tradition here at Nazareth Academy that when we have a state championship team in the house, we also have an extra day off,” she said.

Feb. 17 will be a day without school, she said, as the student body of 740 roared its approval.

When one considers there were only 13 seniors on this roster, another day off may be coming soon as state titles are also getting synonymous with Nazareth football.

The Roadrunners won a championship for the fourth time in the past nine seasons. Nazareth is now 4-2 in football title games.

The Roadrunners beat Peoria in a 45-44 thriller on Saturday at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium for their first title since 2018.

Head Coach Tim Racki, who won four straight state titles at Driscoll, thanked the parents, students, band, cheerleaders, poms, teachers and administration for their support.

Now 8-2 overall in title games, Racki said he’s humbled by accolades, adding it wouldn’t be possible with the assistant coaches he considers “some of the best in the state.”

“In terms of where we were at, there was never a doubt,” he deadpanned.

Nazareth became the first football team in state history to start a season 2-4 and win it all.

“The resiliency is something I’ve never experienced as a head coach,” Racki said.

The Roadrunners reeled off eight straight wins after that start.

“The destination is always wonderful, but, man, I can’t tell you how sad I am that this journey has concluded,” Racki said.

“I’m so proud and incredibly blessed to be surrounded by these young men and especially the seniors whom I’ll never forget,” he said. “Gentlemen, I love you.”

One of those seniors is Hayes, the team’s captain chair, whose interception in the closing moments sealed the victory.

Hayes said the team appreciated the support from the fans, credited the coaches for their hard work, and thanked his teammates who worked hard all year.

“This team means everything to me. … To see that we came out on top is so rewarding,” Hayes said. “I know each and every one of us sitting in those chairs would do anything for the guy next to him. That’s why I love Naz.”

Senior running back, receiver and defensive back Justin Taylor, a Wisconsin recruit, thanked “my brothers” and the coaches “for all the time you sacrificed for us.”

After the ceremony, Racki said he sensed something special was brewing after an emotional talk with the team then 2-4.

“I worked my tail off at motivation and leadership. I pretty much emptied my tool box. I told them, ‘Guys, I don’t know what else to say. Now it’s time for you to lead.’ From that moment on, we started growing,” Racki said.

“You develop that grit, that toughness. And they started believing.”

He refrained from comparing this title with his other seven. But he did praise the team’s focus, saying, “when you’re 2-4, it’s easy to tank.”

Sophomore quarterback Logan Malachuk, named Player of the Game after rushing for two touchdowns and throwing for two more, said “words can’t express how happy I am right now.”

“I believed we always had a shot because this team showed so much potential. And, of course, we’re so young. We had a lot of learning to do,” he said.

He praised the Nazareth defense that stopped running back Malachi Washington on a key two-point conversion late in the game.

“They came up big when we needed them. It’s that one play. And Zach’s pick as well. It’s the resilience. I’m super proud of them,” Malachuk said.

Washington – whom Racki called “the best running back I’ve seen in years” – carried 48 times for 289 yards. His six touchdowns tied a state record.

Before the football celebration, Nazareth’s girl sports were recognized for going downstate this fall in volleyball, tennis, golf and cross-country.

On a personal note, Racki coached the title game with a heavy heart.

Brother-in-law Flavio Gentile died suddenly on Nov. 23 from a bacterial infection in his blood, Racki said.

Gentile had played quarterback in high school at Fenwick.

“He was a huge football fan and supporter of mine since I was at Driscoll,” Racki said. “I knew he’d want me to lock in and take care of these kids. And that’s what I did. I knew he was with me the entire way.”

Nazareth started the year with a 2-0 shutout of state runner-up Kankakee in La Grange Park, and ended it with a wild 45-44 shootout.
Keith Lukes, the Roadrunners’ defensive coordinator, said the big scoring difference was attributable to the hard-to-stop Washington and Peoria’s depth.
“He was great. They had very few two-way guys. I think their brand of football, with the size they had upfront, with him running as effectively as he did, it kind of wore on us. We had a bunch of guys going both ways (on offense and defense) and they wore us down,” he said.
An outside bltz stopped Washington from scoring a two-point conversion that would have given Peoria a 46-45 lead late.
“We sent an outside blitz on that play. Finn O’Meara and Braden Ferguson were the two guys on the tackle. And we had the pick late,” Lukes said.
He was surprised Peoria stuck with its unconventional approach of kicking on-side every kick off. But he was pleased with the results.
“This wsa the first game we saw on film and maybe the entire season where they didn’t recover at least one on-side kick. From the punt side, they only punted nine times the entire year. In our game, they punted four times. So we were doing something different,” Lukes said.
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Nazareth Head Coach Tim Racki won his eighth state championship, four of them with the Roadrunners, on Nov. 26 in Champaign.

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