Nazareth ousts Hersey
In tracing back to where the return to prominence of football at Hersey began, one could mark it back eight years ago when former Harper College coach Dragan Teonic was hired to turn those fortunes around.
By his fourth season in 2013, he had the Huskies back in the playoffs for the first time since 2003 in addition to capturing its first Mid-Suburban League divisional crown since 1976.
His successor, Joe Pardun, took the baton the following season. On top of capturing a pair of MSL East crowns, he has consistently had Hersey as a perennial postseason participant with this season marking the program's third trip to playoff action in his five years at the helm, which included its first postseason triumph since 2002 one year ago.
Pardun had his team back in Round 2 of the IHSA Class 7A bracket Saturday, bringing with him one of the Top 20 scoring offenses in the state (457 points) to LaGrange Park where it would face and lose 49-14 to a Nazareth Academy squad that had moved up a class from last year where it lost to repeat 6A state champ Prairie Ridge in the title game.
Like Hersey, Nazareth had taken 9 of its first 10 games, sporting a 38 point-per-game average in the process.
Unfortunately for the visitors, Nazareth's scoring machine was processing successfully.
By scoring 2 touchdowns in each of the first three quarters of play, the eighth-seeded Roadrunners ended the ninth-seeded Huskies' season at Joan Valenta Stadium to advance to quarterfinal round play for the fourth time in the last five years where it will face 7A top seed Simeon (11-0). The Wolverines won 48-35 over No. 17 Lincoln-Way West in New Lenox.
"I think there were some opportunities where we could've kept it close in the first half but we couldn't complete those opportunities that you need to especially when you're playing as good a football team that Nazareth is," Pardun said.
The Roadrunners took advantage of their opportunities from the opening kickoff as they drove 60 yards in 10 plays to find pay dirt when sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy took it in from the 1-yard line for a 7-0 lead.
Nazareth took further after advantage when it benefitted from a muffed Hersey punt snap that placed the pigskin on the Huskies' 26 where Diamond Evans picked up 1 of his 2 TDss on the day with a 2-yard run, giving the host school a 14-0 edge just 26 seconds past the halfway mark of period one.
After a Michael Love 85-yard punt return expanded the Roadrunner lead to 21-0 with just under 2:30 gone by in the second, Hersey (9-2) embarked on a 15 play drive that took it from its own 34 to the Nazareth 2 before a fumbled snap, a 5-yard false start flag and an incomplete pass in the end zone left the Huskies stranded on the 7.
From there, the home team would make it 28-0 six plays later as McCarthy found freshman Tyler Morris for a 50-yard pass play with 1:25 remaining until the break.
That pass gave McCarthy his 13th straight completion of the game. He finished the day 15 of 16 for 319 yards as he added a pair of TD strikes to Love (50 yards) and Evans (80 yards) to finish off his afternoon as he didn't play in the fourth quarter.
Nazareth finished the game with 524 yards of total offense to McCarthy's amazement.
"It was insane," McCarthy said. "Every play that our coaches called worked to perfection. It was like all of the studying that we did for this game paid off. It helps that I feel like we have one if the best receiver corps in the state which makes my job a little bit easier."
Hersey's passing combo of seniors Ryan Justice and Kacper "The Ghost" Rutkiewicz connected for their team's 2 touchdowns in the final game of their Huskie careers as they found the end zone from 3 yards out in the third and a 53-yard scoring strike in the fourth.
Justice finished the afternoon going 19 of 34 for 284 yards with Rutkiewicz catching six of those for 81 yards. Junior running back Jordan Hansen aided in the Hersey effort with 161 yards rushing and receiving.
For Rutkiewicz, who gave Illinois State a verbal commitment three weeks ago, it became more of a looking back of his Huskie career when the game became final.
"This was a once in a lifetime moment for me to be with these guys," he said. "Right now, I'd give anything to be able to suit up with them one more time. This is a family. Our coaches preached that from day one. We gave it our best and by doing so, we set a standard for this program."