Benet loses against Nazareth
"Adversity can either make or break a team."
Nazareth football coach Tim Racki summed up his team's season with one sentence.
After an 0-3 start to the season, the perennial powerhouse program that the state has known Nazareth to be was in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
For the Roadrunners, adversity brought them together as a 34-8 victory over Benet clinched a postseason berth.
"We (are) a ballclub now," said senior running back/linebacker Kaleb Miller, who scored both an offensive and defensive touchdown in the win. "At the beginning of the season, we were still figuring out our identity. Now, we're a true team, we've bonded together and now it's time to show everyone what we (are) really about."
Miller and his teammates looked back at a Week 3 loss to Class 8A powerhouse Marist -- a 28-14 loss -- as a turning point of the season. While Nazareth (5-4, 2-1 Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference) fell winless in its first three games on that night, it showed it can play with the best of the best in the state.
While looking extremely impressive on offense of late thanks to freshman quarterback Logan Malachuk's continued growth, the Nazareth defense ended the regular season on a high note with its starting defense shutting out Benet (4-5, 1-2).
"We just have that dog mentality," linebacker Nolan Morris said. "All 11 (players) to the ball ... that's our thing. We play for each other and it really shows."
Benet finished with 187 yards of total offense, 67 of which came on its scoring drive by which time the Nazareth defense had pulled its starters. Benet running back Michael Lawler ran for all 89 of his yards in the first half.
Morris and the Nazareth defense held Benet to just 88 yards of total offense in that first half, holding the Redwings to just 3-of-9 passing. They finished 8-of-17 passing for 57 yards in the game.
"These guys didn't flinch," Racki said of the slow start. "There's all this social media out there that they read and hear that 'Nazareth is done' and all of that. They kept their composure, they were resilient and incredibly mentally tough. They learned how to fight harder each week and that chemistry in the locker room and on the field has become stronger each week. Adversity for this team has made it stronger, no question."
On the offensive side of the ball, Malachuk took another step in his development of a freshman campaign. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 268 yards and 2 touchdowns, including six straight completions to end the first half.
The last of those completions was a 42-yard toss for a touchdown to Justin Taylor.
"With the weapons that we have, no one wants us," Taylor said. "The way we're putting it all together right now. It's just one big puzzle and it's beautiful.
"Logan was born for this. We have all the confidence in the world in him. He came in first start, played ball and I just told him to 'Do you.' Ever since his first start, week in and week out, we have the utmost confidence in him. He's really special."