Scouting the Class 7A semifinal between Rolling Meadows and Nazareth
No. 2 Nazareth (12-0) at No. 3 Rolling Meadows (12-0)
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
How they got here: Nazareth beat Libertyville 47-6, beat Thornton 49-21, beat Batavia 38-24; Rolling Meadows beat Lincoln Park 33-12, beat Prospect 26-14, beat Wheaton Warrenville South 20-3.
Advancement: Winner plays the winner of Mt. Carmel vs. Willowbrook for the state championship on November 30 at Northern Illinois University at 4 p.m.
Outlook: The magic continues at Rolling Meadows as the Mustangs have advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 2004.
Rolling Meadows gets to host the semifinals because according to IHSA rules, the team hosting the least amount of playoff games is awarded the home game. Nazareth has hosted all three of its playoff games while Rolling Meadows has hosted just twice.
"I think everyone is excited," Rolling Meadows coach Matt Mishler said. "I have had a ton of people telling me they are going to be there."
They will get to see a Rolling Meadows team that has exceeded expectations all season. Despite the naysayers, Meadows won the Mid-Suburban East, two playoff games and then dominated Wheaton Warrenville South on the road last week in the quarterfinals.
"These guys have continually shown that they expect to win," Mishler said. "It is not arrogance or cockiness. They have their own expectation that they will win every game. They put the work and preparation in. Monday through Thursday is when you win games and they do the work to get that done."
The Rolling Meadows defense has been a sight to see this season.
The Mustangs are led by defensive end Nate Pedraza, who was named an All-Stater for the second consecutive year by the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association. He is joined on the defensive line by Jose Aleman and Mick Lawlor. Chris Divito, Matt Walas, Sean Nolan, Kevin Jacks and Brian Sroka also help lead a defense has allowed 14 points per game.
"Our defense has been our engine all year," Mishler said. "They had a great game last week against a team that is tough offensively. Our offense did a great job and controlled the clock."
That offense continues to shine behind Carson Schiller, who has thrown for 2,191 yards with 24 touchdowns. Schiller likes to spread the ball around to Michael Sobkowicz, Nife Oseni, Jordan Wiles and Jimmy Golaris. Divito, Charlie Schmidt and Oseni all have a hand in the rushing attack that likes to control the clock.
They will need to do that to help slow down Nazareth and its highflying offense led by Michigam-commit JJ McCarthy. Only a junior, McCarthy has helped lead the defending state champion Roadrunners to average 38 points per game.
Nazareth is playing in its fifth semifinal game in the last six seasons under coach Tim Racki. In his 15th season at Nazareth, Racki has compiled a 121-49 record and won three state titles. He also took his team to the championship game on another occasion.
The Roadrunners lost their opening game of the season to Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis. But Cardinal Ritter was forced to forfeit that game when it was determined it used an ineligible player.
Mishler said he and his team are ready for the challenge Saturday.
"I think we just have to do what we do have done all season," Mishler said. "Their kids like to play fast. We need to put pressure on their quarterback, which is part of our game plan each week. If Nazareth makes any mistakes we have to capitalize on them and we have to play sound football."