LA GRANGE PARK – Quentrell Harris sought out the end zone Saturday like a young man hungry to be back on the field and eager to make a good first impression.
Nazareth lost several players who moved out of state last year with Illinois football on hold, but Harris instead took an inbound route to the La Grange Park school. He transferred across town from Lyons last summer.
Harris had to wait a week to make his Nazareth debut as a game with Fenwick was canceled – but it was worth the wait.
Harris’ electrifying 80-yard interception return for a touchdown was one of the Roadrunners’ many highlights in a 35-7 season-opening win over St. Laurence on Saturday.
“It feels great, honestly,” Harris said. “We’ve put so much work in, come together, it feels great to finally be back out there and put everything together for the win.”
Five different Nazareth players scored touchdowns, and the Roadrunners forced three turnovers and shut out St. Laurence until the game’s final minutes.
With Nazareth already leading 14-0, Harris snatched a pass from St. Laurence’s Darius Wilson, and was off to the races. Two Vikings’ players caught him near the goal line, but Harris shed the tacklers for the score and 21-0 lead with 1:32 left in the first half.
“I saw him bootleg, we’ve been practicing that over and over again, saw him throw it, committed to it and just took it to the house,” Harris said. “It’s just putting that work in the weight room and having the heart and grit to score.”
Harris said he played almost exclusively offense as a sophomore on varsity at Lyons, but was playing both ways Saturday.
“He’s a special talent,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “He’ll play both ways, all three phases.”
Racki said in the preseason he’d play his full roster during this shortened pandemic spring season, and indeed that was the case Saturday. Seven different players got carries in the first half alone, Nazareth played three quarterbacks and had a steady shuttle in and out defensively.
“These kids have been sitting around for an entire year, they’re only allowing parents in to games, there’s no playoffs – I’m going to play every one of my kids and not just in cleanup time,” Racki said. “These parents, after being shut down, I’m not going to have their kids sitting on the sideline. Whatever the result is on the scoreboard, so be it.”
All three Nazareth quarterbacks led scoring drives. Cass Kinsella started, throwing a 20-yard TD to Kaleb Miller on the Roadrunners’ first drive. Ben Michel followed one series later, Patrick Oden running in a 32-yard score.
Junior Aidan Pieper, a transfer from St. Charles North, came in and played most of the second half. He completed his first seven passes for 128 yards, five to Tyler Morris, lofting a perfect throw to Morris down the left sideline for a 44-yard score and 28-0 lead with 9:36 left in the third quarter.
“So far it’s been great [with Pieper,],” Morris said. “Still a couple things to work on, but in the offseason, first week he came in we were already texting in a group chat.”
Morris, the second-ranked junior in Illinois and one of the top receivers nationally, said he’s mainly been talking to Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, Florida, Missouri and Northwestern of late. He has a virtual visit with Florida set for April 1, but his most immediate priority is on the field.
With talented underclassmen at the skill positions like Morris, Pieper, Miller, Harris and sophomore Justin Taylor, Saturday’s game resembled a true spring contest in auditions toward next fall.
“It’s just great to be able to play an actual game,” Morris said. “There’s been practices and 7-on-7s, but nothing is compared to playing an actual game. This year, there’s no state and all that, we still want to win every game but it’s also about getting everyone in and trying to build toward next season.”
Matt Ochoa ran for 144 yards on 24 carries for St. Laurence (0-2), his 14-yard TD run with 2:53 left accounting for the Vikings’ lone score.