Logan Malachuk knew getting into the end zone was everything. He had one man to beat, and he did. Malachuk leaped into the air a little as he crossed the goal line.
The junior’s 22-yard touchdown run put Nazareth ahead by two scores with 4:16 to play and silenced the stunned crowd in Crystal Lake.
Prairie Ridge and its fans are accustomed to deep playoff runs. The Fox Valley power makes regular appearances in the state championship game and rarely loses at home.
But things did not fall the Wolves’ way this year. Undefeated Prairie Ridge wound up hosting an extremely talented, dangerous Nazareth squad in the first round. The Roadrunners finished the regular season 4-5 against a rugged schedule, and teams are seeded solely on record in the state playoffs.
Nazareth was ranked ahead of the Wolves in the preseason. The Roadrunners won the Class 5A title last year. Prairie Ridge lost in the Class 6A championship game last season. So it’s not surprising that Saturday afternoon’s matchup looked and felt more like a semifinal than a Class 5A first-round game.
Malachuk was sensational. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for two in Nazareth’s 35-28 victory.
“Logan played amazing,” Roadrunners receiver Trenton Walker said. “He’s athletic; he can do all of it.”
Walker’s leaping touchdown catch in the end zone with 11:21 to play put Nazareth (5-5) ahead 28-21.
“I just got up there and grabbed the ball,” Walker said. “Logan knows where to throw it for me.”
Walker, a sophomore, had seven catches for 81 yards. His 44-yard TD grab tied the game at 14 late in the first half.
“[Walker] has made some noise,” Roadrunners coach Tim Racki said. “We have so many great receivers. They all really shined today. [Malachuk] found a lot of them.”
Malachuk, a three-year starter, was 23-for-33 for 258 yards with no interceptions. He had six carries for 72 yards.
“The line gave me so much time, and the receivers got open and gave me space,” Malachuk said. “We always stuck together and stayed composed this season. Of course, everyone thought we were the underdog. But we know what we can do.”
James Penley had seven catches for 70 yards and Jake Cestone caught six passes for 59 yards and a TD for the Roadrunners.
“At 4-5, everybody doubted us,” Nazareth lineman Gabe Kaminski said. “We didn’t let that faze us.”
Kaminski led a strong defensive effort against Prairie Ridge’s vaunted triple-option attack. The Wolves attempted 11 passes. That’s a clear sign that the Roadrunners’ defense was ruining Prairie Ridge’s plans.
“We saw the triple-option last year against Sycamore and this season against St. Ignatius,” Kaminski said. “That definitely helped. It’s always a little foreign at first, but then you get used to it.”
Sophomore Luke Vanderwiel had 12 carries for 130 yards and a TD for the Wolves. His brother Joey, the quarterback, had 19 carries for 71 yards and two touchdowns and was 5-for-11 for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Prairie Ridge fumbled twice in the first half and once in the fourth quarter. All three were recovered by Nazareth.
“Every mistake we could have made we did today,” Wolves coach Chris Schremp said. “Kind of odd. We just weren’t able to make a big play like we had all year. And in the second half, they kind of picked us apart.”
Nazareth is making a habit of following up an average regular season with deep playoff runs. Racki isn’t drawing it up this way.
“It aged me in dog years every week,” Racki said. “I’ve aged, like, 20 years this season. But it’s a testament to the kids that they have stuck with it.”