Talented Nazareth ends Batavia's season again
Playing catch-up against Nazareth Academy quarterback JJ McCarthy and his talented slew of receivers is not advisable.
Batavia was reminded of that lesson in a 38-24 Class 7A quarterfinal loss in LaGrange Park Saturday, marking the second straight year the Bulldogs fell behind against McCarthy and the Roadrunners in a season-ending loss.
The Batavia offense managed two first downs on its first three possessions, each of which resulted in punts.
The Nazareth offense responded with three scoring drives directed by McCarthy, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior committed to Michigan. He completed 6 of 8 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown in staking his team to a 16-0 lead after 14 minutes.
"We finally started to get after JJ a little bit as the game wore on," Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. "I just think we dug ourselves too big a hole early."
No. 2 Nazareth Academy (12-0), the defending Class 7A state champion, advances to a semifinal next week at No. 3 Rolling Meadows (12-0), which defeated No. 22 Wheaton Warrenville South 20-3.
Senior running back Derrick Strongs gave Nazareth a 6-0 lead with a 4-yard run. He rushed for a team-best 71 yards on 10 carries.
McCarthy demonstrated his skill on the second possession. Facing fourth-and-9 at the Batavia 22-yard line, he feather-touched a perfect touchdown pass in stride to sophomore Tyler Morris.
"What he's able to do as a high school kid is just ridiculous and he's still got a whole 'nother year," Batavia senior outside linebacker Quinn Urwiler said.
No. 7 Batavia (9-3) finally gained offensive traction on the fourth try. An 8-play, 66-yard march culminated in a 4-yard, off-tackle run by Quinn Urwiler. The touchdown was set up two plays earlier by a 28-yard pass from Kyle Oroni to junior Trey Urwiler, who finished with 9 receptions for 85 of Batavia's 309 total yards.
The Roadrunners answered with a 9-play, 61-yard drive dotted with four McCarthy completions for 54 yards. He connected three times with 6-foot-6 junior Landon Morris before finding 6-5 junior Tanner Koziol in the end zone for a 22-7 lead with 3:07 left in the first half.
"He's a great quarterback and the receiver corps he's got, he could just go to anyone," said Batavia senior Sam Barus, a safety committed to Bucknell. "There's not really a weak link there."
McCarthy completed 15 of 30 attempts for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"We came out running the ball pretty good," the Nazareth quarterback said. "Then we realized that the pass game was there."
Batavia tried to surprise the Roadrunners with an onside kick to open the second half. Nazareth recovered at the Batavia 44-yard line and scored four plays later. McCarthy's 22-yard strike to Landon Morris gave his team a 28-7 lead 73 seconds into the third quarter.
"That's on me," Piron said of the onside kick. "We practice it quite a bit. I really thought we might be able to catch them and we did. It just didn't work out. I feel bad about that. It's my call and I hope I didn't hurt the kids chances with that."
Barus rejuvenated the Batavia sideline by returning the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown that sliced the deficit to 28-14.
Following a short Nazareth field goal by Drew Hughes, the Bulldogs had to settle for a 21-yard field goal of their own from Jackson Williams with 7:31 left in the game. The kick capped a 19-play, 63-yard drive that chewed over eight minutes off the clock.
Batavia regained possession with 4:21 to play and drove to midfield, but an Oroni pass was intercepted by Tyler Morris. He raced 65 yards up the left sideline untouched to give Nazareth a 21-point lead with 2:49 remaining.
That all but spelled the end for the DuKane Conference co-champions. The Bulldogs scored on a 43-yard touchdown catch and run by Art Taylor against a prevent defense with 2:24 left, but the hole was too deep.
Barus later encapsulated what it was like to grow up in Batavia and play three varsity seasons that included a 2017 state title, a 2018 semifinal appearance, a 2019 quarterfinal and a 34-5 record.
"It's something special," he said. "Just the brotherhood and the family. You grow up in this. You start off an elementary school saying 'I want to be a Batavia football player.' You move into middle school and you're that much closer. Then your four years come and it's the best time of your life."