Nazareth stuns Carmel on Malachuk's last-minute TD pass
Quarterback Logan Malachuk could have easily lost faith after Nazareth High School dropped its first four games of the season.
After all, what are the odds of an 0-4 squad making a playoff run?
Well, the Roadrunners aren't just any team -- something they proved during a dramatic 21-17 Class 5A quarterfinal victory at Carmel Catholic on Saturday afternoon.
Malachuk threw for 309 yards, with the final 27 coming on a TD pass to good buddy Jimmy Penley on third-and-15 with 46 seconds remaining.
Penley intercepted a Carmel pass moments later to seal the victory, one Nazareth coach Tim Racki aptly termed "an instant classic."
Nazareth (7-5) now hosts Wheaton St. Francis in the semifinals next weekend.
Asked if he believed this was possible back in September, Malachuk said: "Oh, absolutely. I knew what we had as a team. And I'm sure everyone else did too.
"We knew it was going to be a battle because we played the toughest schedule in the state of Illinois in the regular season. We knew we'd stay together -- and that's what it's all about."
Carmel coach Jason McKie, a former Chicago Bears fullback, gave a fiery halftime speech that obviously resonated as the Corsairs opened the second half with a 13-play, 76-yard drive to tie the game at 14-14.
"He had a great speech that fired all of us up -- and we came out blasting in that first drive," said junior tailback Donovan Dey, who ripped off a 23-yard run on fourth-and-2 from the Nazareth 33, then scored from 5 yards out. "(He told us) how we don't want this to be our seniors' last game."
Said McKie: "We had a really good offensive line. They played well for us all year. We just wanted to come out and set a tone and play our brand of football."
Then, when senior DB Ryan Harris came on a corner blitz and dumped Malachuk for a 14-yard sack on third down, momentum was firmly in Carmel's hands.
But the Corsairs were hit with a 15-yard block-below-the-waist penalty on the first play of their next drive, and it became a game of field position after that.
Carmel took a 17-14 lead on a 38-yard field goal by Ashton Lutz with 3:05 remaining to set up the dramatic finish.
Malachuk hit Penley for gains of 14 and 6 yards, and a pass interference call moved Nazareth to the Carmel 22.
Then came two incompletions and a false start, setting up third-and-15 from the 27.
With the Carmel fans in full throat urging the defense to make one more stop, Malachuk dropped back, looked off the safety and found Penley streaking down the middle of the field.
"Credit to them. Really good defensive backfield -- probably the best we've faced all year," Penley said. "We had just been setting it up and I realized (the defensive back) was playing a little more outside, so I kind of gave him an outside (move), took it in and Logan put it on the money."
Carmel's secondary made key plays at key times, with Harlon May snaring a first-half interception, Tyshaun Campbell breaking up a pass in the end zone just before halftime and Dev'ion Reynolds knocking away a pass intended for Walker early in the second half.
For May, it was an honor to play in such a hard-fought affair.
"We knew coming in we had to stop their red-hot offense," May said. "We did very well. Games like this always come down to the last second.
"I'm just thankful to be put in this position -- that we had the chance to stop the game. That's a blessing for any defensive player."
Afterward, McKie told a teary group of Corsairs to keep their heads held high. Nothing to be ashamed of. You had a tremendous season.
"A lot of guys have been through this program that have set a foundation," McKie said. "The expectation has been raised. We understand what the standard and culture is.
"It's just motivation going into the off-season to not only get back to this point but to surpass this point. We've got a good group coming back."
Penley finished with 106 yards on 7 receptions, while sophomore teammate Trenton Walker grabbed 9 balls for 140 yards -- all in the first half. His 44-yard TD catch on fourth-and-5 opened the scoring early in the second quarter.
Unlike his QB, Walker had some doubts when the Roadrunners dropped their first four games.
But now? None. No doubts.
"It was very emotional and everyone was very shaken by it because we'd never started a season off like that before," Walker said. "But we knew we were the team that could make history and that's what we're gonna do."