Nazareth takes it to Libertyville in playoff opener
Libertyville junior linebacker Trace Batesky intercepted one of the nation's most highly regarded high school quarterbacks in his 2021 class. He even sacked him.
Batesky left Nazareth Academy's Valenta Stadium with a bigger take-away, though.
The commitment and leadership of Libertyville's seniors helped the Wildcats get back to the playoffs after a 2-win campaign last year.
"I think we made a huge step in the program," Batesky said after No. 31 seed Libertyville lost to Nazareth 47-6 in a Class 7A state playoff opener in LaGrange Park on Saturday. "Our coach just talked to us (after the game) about how the seniors set the tone this year. I think that's what we got to continue. Next year when I'm a senior, when all these other guys are seniors, we got to set that tone early and drive it through to wherever our season ends."
No. 2 Nazareth (10-0), which advanced to play No. 15 Thornton (8-2), began defense of its Class 7A state championship with a dominating performance that included 28 points in the opening quarter. The Roadrunners' defense forced a three-and-out on the game's opening series and then needed only 1 play to score. Running back Derrick Strongs Jr. (6 carries, 142 yards) hook a handoff, broke tackles and sped 67 yards into the end zone.
The home team scored on its first four possessions. Michigan commit J.J. McCarthy fired back-to-back touchdown passes to Tyler Morris (screen, 5 yards) and Tanner Koziol (corner end zone, 12 yards), before Alex Carrillo zigged and zagged into the end zone from 14 yards out with 46 seconds left in the first quarter.
"They're a talented team, and we didn't tackle well," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said. "It's been one of our bugaboos this year. At times we've tackled well. At times we didn't."
Libertyville (5-5) wasn't going to be shut out. Wildcats junior quarterback Blake Ellingson flashed McCarthy elusiveness when he split a pair of tackles and busted off a 59-yard TD run down the left sideline on the first snap of the second quarter.
"I think (wide receiver) Brian Stacy had a nice block for me, and I cut it into the inside," Ellingson said.
Nazareth resumed scoring, taking a 41-6 lead into halftime, as McCarthy winged TD passes of 19 and 9 yards to Landon Morris.
McCarthy finished 18 of 22 for 254 yards with the 4 touchdown passes.
"He's tremendous," Ellingson said. "He's a five-star (recruit) for a reason."
Batesky picked off McCarthy in the second quarter, securing a tipped ball just before it hit the turf.
"They're a great team, all across the board," Batesky said of the Roadrunners. "They're big, they're physical, they play fast, they play a high brand of football, and they're well-coached. When all of those things come together, this is what happens."
Libertyville staved off a running clock until Nazareth's Breven Reifsteck returned Ellingson's third interception 75 yards into the end zone early in the fourth quarter. Carrillo had 2 interceptions for Nazareth, which limited Ellingson to 68 passing yards (12 of 24).
"We just take away (from the season) that we've got to work to get a better (playoff) seed," Jones said. "You got a get a little bit better seed to make some noise."