Friday evening’s first-ever football game between Fenwick High School and Nazareth Academy was predicted by many to be a high-scoring affair, given that each team had prolific offenses led respectively by quarterbacks Kaden Cobb and J.J. McCarthy.
In anticipation, there was a standing-room-only crowd on hand at Valenta Stadium in LaGrange Park.
“I was very proud of the Fenwick community in the way it turned out for our boys,” said Fenwick coach Gene Nudo. “They couldn’t help but take notice and got a little more of an understanding of what it means to be a football Friar. I got a phone call from the captain of the 1938 team; he called to wish me and the boys good luck. There aren’t a lot of places where you can get such a phone call.”
Despite the Friars putting up a good fight for the majority of the game, the Roadrunners ultimately were able to find a little more rhythm offensively in the second half to pull away for a 31-6 victory.
“It was a hard-fought battle on both sides of the ball. We knew Fenwick was going to be a physical team,” said Nazareth head coach Tim Racki. “I was pleased with our defensive effort because we kept them out of the end zone.”
With 1:02 left in the first quarter, Nazareth blocked Fenwick kicker Bryan Dowd’s 34-yard field goal attempt. Then the Roadrunners (2-1) embarked on a 10-play, 82-yard march that culminated with Riley Theobald’s 18-yard touchdown run at the 9:57 mark of the second quarter.
Jackson Fowler’s point after made the score 7-0 for Nazareth, and the teams traded multiple defensive stops for the remainder of the half.
Four plays into the second half, Nazareth found the house again on a 49-yard scoring strike from McCarthy to Tyler Morris.
“It was an isolation matchup on the outside,” said Morris. “J.J. just threw it, and I got it.”
Midway through the third, Morris came up with another big play — this time on defense — with an interception of Cobb (10-for-29, 142 yards, 2 INT) at midfield. His 37-yard return set up the Roadrunners at the Fenwick 13, and two plays later Carrillo went in from two yards out to raise the Nazareth lead to 21-0.
“My job on defense is to guard the flat,” said Morris. “I was watching the quarterback’s eyes and saw him come my way.”
The Nazareth defense came up huge again on Fenwick’s next possession as linebacker Marcus Griffin strip sacked Cobb of the ball, which defensive end Daine Hanson recovered at the Friars’ 46-yard line. Fowler’s 20-yard field goal capped off a seven-play drive to make the score 24-0 Nazareth at the 1:08 mark of the third.
Fenwick (2-1) got a spark on the ensuing kickoff as Danny Kent returned it 92 yards for a touchdown. A failed two-point conversion left the score 24-6 Nazareth. But then the Friars continued to build momentum as Greysen Cone intercepted McCarthy at the Nazareth 45.
Fenwick drove to the Roadrunners’ 7-yard line early in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-1, Cobb rolled out to his left and threw to Eian Pugh in the end zone, but the pass fell incomplete.
Nazareth then iced the game with a 13-play drive that chewed up over eight minutes. Carrillo’s second touchdown run, this one from eight yards out, and the point after by Fowler made the score 31-6.
While hitting on a few big plays, Fenwick overall had trouble sustaining offense. The Friars managed 144 yards in total offense, including just two yards rushing. Pugh (46 yards) and Brian Moore (26 yards) each grabbed three receptions, and Jonas Capek had two receptions for 53 yards.
“Upfront, we couldn’t deal with their size”, said Nudo. “When you don’t rush the ball for very much yardage, it’s tough.”
Defensively, Danny Farnan paced the Friars with 10 tackles. Bryce Legan added 7 tackles – including a sack of McCarthy in the first half, and Declan Donnelly and Marc Thomas had 5 tackles apiece.
“We played against one of the best teams in the state, there’s no doubt about it. Nazareth is very impressive,” Nudo said. “I thought our kids did a great job of hanging in there for a half, but the third quarter did us in.”
Both Nazareth and Fenwick will strive for more consistency as the season enters Week Four. The Roadrunners travel to Burbank for a Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference Orange Division opener against St. Laurence.
Meanwhile, the Friars have another road challenge as they visit defending 5A champion Joliet Catholic in a CCL/ESCC White Division opener.
Both games are on Friday, Sept. 20, with each kickoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.