Scouting 7A and 6A state championship games
Class 7A championship
No. 8 Nazareth Academy (12-1) vs. No. 22 St. Charles North (10-3)
Game time: 4 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium
Road to the championship game: Nazareth defeated No. 25 Andrew 42-11, No. 9 Hersey 49-14, No. 1 Simeon 34-27 and No. 4 Batavia 47-28; St. Charles North defeated No. 11 Normal Community 44-29, No. 6 Rolling Meadows 24-17, No. 14 Wheaton Warrenville South 21-10 and No. 7 Mt. Carmel 27-21 (2OT).
Outlook: St. Charles North makes its first title-game appearance. No team from St. Charles had advanced beyond a quarterfinal prior to this unprecedented run, which followed consecutive losses to Batavia and Wheaton Warrenville South to close the regular season. "It just shows how resilient our team is," said all-state cornerback/wide receiver and wildcat QB Tyler Nubin. "We just pushed those games to the side and we never gave up ... and we're going to be ready Saturday." Nazareth makes its fourth title-game appearance in five seasons. The Roadrunners won the Class 6A state championship in 2014 and the Class 5A title in 2015. They lost the 2017 Class 6A title game to Prairie Ridge when the potential game-tying pass was intercepted at the goal line with seven seconds left. "Seven seconds" has served as the program's yearlong reminder to prepare that much harder. "I think at any level of football or any level of sports, for that matter, when you have a team that gets that close, you want to use that as motivation, not whoa is me," said Nazareth coach Tim Racki (185-61). "And our kids certainly have used that as motivation this entire off-season and season."
Nazareth's explosive offense averages 39.2 points and 389 total yards. The spread attack has gained 65.5 percent of its 5,059 total yards through the air. Sophomore JJ McCarthy (6-foot-2, 180 pounds), a strong-armed, mobile quarterback, is particularly dangerous when he escapes the pass rush. McCarthy has completed 161 of 219 attempts (73.5 percent) for 3,088 yards and 35 touchdowns. Batavia intercepted McCarthy twice last week, doubling his season total. Nazareth fields multiple playmakers capable of going the distance on any play, chiefly, all-state wide receiver Michael Love. The 5-10, 175-pound senior has 54 receptions for 1,087 yards and 18 touchdowns and has carried 29 times for 287 yards and 4 touchdowns. Love also plays cornerback and punts. Fellow receiver/corner Diamond Evans (5-11, 190) leads Nazareth in receptions (56) and receiving yards (1,112) and has scored 12 touchdowns. He is equally valuable as a blocker. "He is a machine in terms of creating space for our other skill players out there," said Racki, who has coached six state championship teams, including four at Driscoll between 2001-04. Tackle leaders for St. Charles North's defense are junior linebacker Ben Furtney (89 tackles, 7 sacks, 13 tackles for loss), senior linebacker Billy Durocher (85 tackles, 5 sacks, 18 TFL) and senior safety Egon Hein (80, 4 TFL).
St. Charles North's offense centers around Nubin. The 6-foot-3, 191-pound senior receiver/wildcat quarterback scored all 4 touchdowns in last week's semifinal victory. He has rushed for 530 yards and 12 touchdowns in 94 attempts and has 40 receptions for 638 yards and 9 scores. "He's a special kid," said sixth-year St. Charles North coach Rob Pomazak (48-17). "I don't think I'll ever coach another player quite like him." Junior quarterback Kyler Brown is a 56-percent passer (113 of 202) who has thrown for 1,715 yards and 16 touchdowns. Senior Alec Kritta (6-0, 185) leads the North Stars in receptions (47), receiving yards (860), and touchdown catches (12). The North Stars rush for 174 yards per game behind right tackle Alex Westendorf (6-4, 285), right guard Carmine Bastone (6-0, 212), center Matthew Fell (6-0, 190), left guard Nicholas Smith (6-2, 220) and left tackle Joe Duhownik (6-0, 190). Junior Nick DeMarco has rushed for 851 yards and 5 touchdowns. He took over the position in Week 7 due to an injury to his older brother, Sam DeMarco (138 carries, 729 yards, 3 TD). "We have times where we stall a little bit on offense and put our defense in a bad position," Nubin said. "I think if we just keep our execution up and do our job, we have the athletes to do it. We have the line, we have the running back. Just keep grinding every single series and try to flip the field as much as possible."
Nazareth's defense holds opponents to 15.4 points and 208 total yards per game, led by Marcus Griffin (65 tackles, 6 sacks), Jermaine Baker (54 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Jonathan Harris (50 tackles). Said Kyler Brown: "They are obviously a really talented team, a very storied program and they have JJ McCarthy, but I'm confident in our defense, our offense and specials to get our job done."
Class 6A championship
No. 1 Cary-Grove (13-0) vs. No. 11 Crete-Monee (10-3)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium
Road to the championship game: Cary-Grove defeated No. 16 Wauconda 49-7, No. 8 Kaneland 38-6, No. 4 Phillips 34-24 and No. 6 Notre Dame 28-21; Crete-Monee defeated No. 6 Bloomington 41-13, No. 3 Chatham-Glenwood 40-39, No. 2 Washington 35-28 and No. 1 Richards 38-35.
Outlook: This is a rematch of the 2012 Class 6A title game, won by Crete-Monee 33-26. Fox Valley Conference champion Cary-Grove makes its fifth title-game appearance (1-3); Southland Conference champion Crete-Monee makes its third (1-1). The Warriors earned their ticket to Champaign by knocking off the top three seeds in the southern bracket. Their offense is led by quarterback Trayvon Rudolph. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound junior directs an attack that nets 33 points and 372 total yards per game. The dual-threat quarterback has thrown for 1,141 yards and 11 touchdowns on 69-of-119 passing (58 percent) and has been intercepted 5 times. Rudolph has rushed 91 times for 659 yards and 13 touchdowns. "He's the prototypical spread quarterback," said Crete-Monee sixth-year coach John Konecki (51-17). "He can throw the ball and at the same time he can hurt you with his feet." Vontrell Banks (5-11, 175) also gets time at QB. The senior has thrown for 650 yards and 5 touchdowns. Ronald Carroll, Jr. can play the position, too. "You may see all three of those guys play quarterback on Saturday," Konecki said. Top receiver Ricky Johnson is a 6-foot-3 senior with 60 catches for 1,039 yards and 9 touchdowns. Crete-Monee's leading rushers are seniors Amari Venerable (140 carries, 869 yards, 9 TD) and Carroll, Jr. (95 carries, 669 yards, 18 TD). They face a Cary-Grove defense that limits opponents to 16 points and 255 total yards per game, led by senior end Jake DiMatteo (36 tackles, 8 sacks), junior linebacker Jake Johnson (42.5 tackles, 5 sacks) and senior safety Danny Daigle (59.5 tackles, 5 interceptions). Said DiMatteo: "We just have to stick to the fundamentals, dominate the line, get 11 hats to the ball and have our secondary guys do their jobs as they've been doing all season."
Defensively, Crete-Monee plays a base four-man front with five defensive backs, paced by safety Carroll, Jr. (108 tackles, 2 interceptions), 225-pound senior tackle Dakota Fugate (101 tackles, 11 TFL) and freshman linebacker Terry Elias (94 tackles). All-state senior lineman Deion Harry (6-5, 265) has an offer from Oregon State. That unit holds opponents to 23 points and 277 yards per game. Cary-Grove counters with a triple-option offense that scores 42 points and gains 419 yards per game. Quarterback Ben McDonald is the catalyst. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior has had a hand in 42 touchdowns (24 rushing, 18 passing). He has rushed for 1,380 yards and passed for 1,364. McDonald's only interception in 201 attempts came on the first pass he tried to throw to 6-foot-3 senior split end Quinn Priester in Week 2. Priester has since made 37 catches for team highs of 667 yards and 10 touchdowns, though he has been limited for a few weeks by what Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg called "a lower-leg injury." The speedy Daigle is a game-breaking threat at receiver and slot back. He has rushed for 673 yards and 7 touchdowns and has 43 receptions for 618 yards and 8 scores. Junior fullback Blake Skol has 1,337 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on 202 carries (6.6 avg.). Senior Addison West (6-3, 275), a two-time all-state selection committed to Western Michigan, clears the way alongside fellow linemen Harry Heinisch (5-8, 180), Jason Petko (6-2, 220), Evan Hissong (5-11, 240) and Jack Riley (6-3, 205). "It all starts up front," West said. "When we dominate the line of scrimmage, we usually win the game. I personally think their best players are their (defensive) linemen, so we're going to have to get a really good push and the backs know what they have to do." Eighth-year head coach Seaburg (82-17) seeks his first state title in his third attempt. "In state championship games, the thing I've learned is it really comes down to guys making plays and taking care of the football," he said.