Alessio Milivojevic, St. Francis ride big second half to win over Nazareth

Spartans score TDs on first four second-half possessions

St. Francis’ Alessio Milivojevic (11) looks for a receiver against Nazareth during the boys varsity football game on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023 in La Grange Park, IL.

LA GRANGE PARK – Bob McMillen had a crucial decision to make.

Nazareth had just cut his team’s double-digit lead to three and St. Francis faced a fourth-and-12 from the Nazareth 45-yard line late in the third quarter.

“We’ve had the mantra all season where we’re going to take the chance,” McMillen said. “We trust our guys. ... You either end up the hero or the bad guy in a situation like that.”

McMillen pushed the right button. Standout quarterback Alessio Milivojevic found DeShaun Williams for a 42-yard gain to start a game-changing sequence for St. Francis in what turned out to be a decisive 35-17 victory over Nazareth on Oct. 20.

TyVonn Ransom scored from three yards out on the next play, which gave the momentum back to the St. Francis defense. The Spartans got a fourth-down stop on Nazareth’s next drive and one play later Milivojevic found Ian Willis for his first of two second-half touchdowns to quickly stretch the lead back to 17 at 28-11.

From Ransom’s score to Willis’ score, 41 seconds of game time elapsed. The Spartans relied heavily on their dual-threat offense as Ransom carried the ball 27 times for 113 yards and Willis had 133 receiving yards in the win. Both scored twice in the Oct. 20 victory.

St. Francis’ TyVonn Ransom (8) runs for a touchdown against Nazareth during the boys varsity football game on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023 in La Grange Park, IL.

“We have so many dynamite players that we feel can win on every play so that helps in making a decision like that,” McMillen said. “That’s a heck of a football team over there in Nazareth, the defending state champions. It was a battle all night but I’m proud of the way we played tonight.”

After a slow-moving first half saw the Spartans take a 7-3 lead into the halftime break, St. Francis (7-2, 2-1 CCL/ESCC Orange) scored on each of its first four second half possessions to take control.

The Roadrunners (4-5, 1-2), who had won four in a row after an 0-4 start, had to hope after the game that their playoff point total was enough to clinch a spot in the state playoffs. Nazareth made the playoff field as one of six teams with 4-5 records.

“You have to give St. Francis a lot of credit. They are so well-coached,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “I’m going to go in my office and see what else is going on and see what’s what. I hope we get in and that’d be great, but I really don’t know at this point. … It’s disappointing, but it just wasn’t our night tonight.”

Nazareth struggled to find an offensive rhythm in large part because of a Spartans defense led by junior defensive back Asher Boose. Nazareth standout quarterback Logan Malachuk completed only 12-of-24 passes for 114 yards, including an incompletion on fourth-and-6 from his own 36 at the end of the third quarter that set up St. Francis to seize control.

“It was both sides tonight,” Boose said. “You get a stop that turns into a touchdown, that can really change a game so much.

“For us defensively, it starts with film. We felt like our coaches had us confident with a really good game plan and put us in the right spots to be successful. We went out and executed it tonight and got the win.”

St. Francis’ Asher Boose (15) breaks up a pass to Nazareth’s James Penley (11) during the boys varsity football game on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023 in La Grange Park, IL.

Milivojevic finished the night 16-of-21 passing for 273 yards and two touchdown passes to Willis. The Ball State commit also accounted for the Spartans’ first second-half touchdown on a 17-yard scramble in which he broke several tackles before diving into the end zone for the score.

“We have the best quarterback in the state, if not the Midwest and maybe the entire country,” McMillen said of Milivojevic. “He’s running all over the place making the throws, making the correct plays every play. It’s special to watch.”

Nazareth got touchdowns from James Penley (15 yards) and Alex Angulo (3 yards) after halftime.