LA GRANGE PARK – Quentrell Harris has one thing on his mind any time he gets the ball in his hands.
“My mindset is to score,” said the Nazareth senior. “No second guessing anything, I’m trying to score.”
After falling behind by two touchdowns early to Montini Friday night, Harris fielded the ensuing kickoff on a few hops and found some open field to break free for an 82-yard touchdown.
From there on, Nazareth scored on every single offensive possession for the rest of the game in a decisive 42-29 victory over Montini in a Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference League crossover game critical to both teams’ playoff hopes.
“We have this [saying] ‘take them to the deep end’,” said Harris, who also caught a touchdown pass in the second half. “I feel like that’s exactly what we did tonight. We just continued to step on their throats. I know my teammates are going to do their job. It’s a brotherhood over here and that’s all it is really.”
Harris’s kick-return touchdown at the 9:54 mark of the second quarter was his sixth special teams touchdown of the season – fourth via kickoff return for Nazareth (4-4, 2-1).
Both coaches knew Harris was dynamic coming into Friday night, but Nazareth coach Tim Racki likes his chances of a momentum-swinging play taking place whenever his 6-foot-1 senior gets the ball in his hands.
“We’ve been practicing squib kicks and sky kicks and just trying to get the ball in his hands,” Racki said. “Even if he doesn’t score, he’s likely going to get us really great field position. You saw what our offense is capable of when we start with great field position, so I think [Quentrell] is a weapon on my levels.”
“We had a big letdown is special teams that I think changed the whole course of this game,” Montini coach Mike Bukovsky said. “I thought we totally outplayed [Nazareth] in the first half and they have one special teams play that lit a fire in them. You just can’t make that mistake. We give their best athlete an opportunity that we never should have. Good teams make those kinds of plays and struggling teams don’t.”
Montini (3-5) tried to keep the ball away from Harris to start the second half and junior Kaleb Miller returned it, with a facemask penalty, to the Broncos’ 15-yard line. Nazareth (4-4) cashed in shortly after as Miller scored from five yards out to tie the score at 21-21.
Nazareth wide receiver Justin Taylor was a vital part of the offensive success for the Roadrunners Friday night, scoring two of his three rushing touchdowns after halftime.
Montini did take a 21-14 lead into the halftime break, but Nazareth scored on each of its five offensive possessions that weren’t stopped by kneel downs to end the half or game after Harris’s kick return touchdown.
“Quentrell is dangerous every time he touches the ball,” said Nazareth senior linebacker Nolan Morris, who was disruptive in the Montini backfield all night. “That was an absolutely electric play and we know Quentrell for that. Once he did that, we just knew. We had that juice and just knew it was [our game] from there.”
“It was just the spark we needed,” Taylor said of Harris’s big return. “Our thing was to just never give up. We started slow, but once we got in a groove, we know we’re a brotherhood here and can change the results of a game real quick.”
Nazareth freshman quarterback Logan Malachuk finished the night completing 11-of-14 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown.
Nazareth’s big night spoiled strong games for Montini’s Cole Teschner (21-of-32, 239 yards, 4TDs), Julian Turner (12 catches, 121 yards, TD) and Estevan Moreno (five catches, 103 yards, 2TDs).
Montini needs a victory over Joliet Catholic next week in order to avoid being eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since 1992. Nazareth can become playoff eligible with a win over Benet.