Despite only having 13 seniors, the Roadrunners’ youth showed that it had the maturity to pull off what seemed unthinkable.
“I think what’s special about this team and those young kids is the maturity level,” senior Justin Taylor said. “They’re very mature. They might be 14, 15 years old, but they’re very mature. They understand what it takes and what you have to do.”
Nazareth’s youth had its fingerprints all around the state-title game. Sophomore quarterback Logan Malachuk threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns, while sophomore wide receiver James Penley caught four passes for 102 yards. Sophomore Gabe Kaminski tied for the lead with 10 total tackles and caught a pass for 19 yards.
Roadrunners coach Tim Racki has grown as his players matured. After coaching for 25 years, he’s learned that yelling and running suicides doesn’t work as much as he thought they did when he started.
“These kids have matured and you have to adapt to that as a coach,” Racki said. “That’s something that I enjoyed doing.”
Taylor knows what it’s like to have young talent and win a state title early, thinking there’s more to come. He won a championship as part of the 2019 team and had young talented players like quarterback J.J. McCarthy, thinking they would win more down the road.
The COVID-19 pandemic took the 2020 season and opportunities away from Taylor, but he said Nazareth’s returning talent for 2023 has the right mindset to not make this a one-year fluke.
“Just stay in your shoes and put your head down and work,” Taylor said. “That’s what I did at that young age, I knew that I just wanted to keep my head down and keep working out and get the result.”
Caravan’s dynamic offense
Mount Carmel quarterback Blainey Dowling was excited to see Champaign’s weather forecast ahead of the Class 7A championship.
After playing in temperatures in the mid-20 degrees with 20 mile per hour winds against St. Rita in the semifinals, Dowling was excited to see a 56-degree forecasted high. Even if the temperature was dropping by the time the 7A title game kicked off, it was still a marked improvement over the previous week.
“We knew we could sling the rock,” Dowling said.
The Caravan won the 7A title with 455 total yards of offense. Dowling threw for 262 yards and four touchdowns, while Jimmy Deacy made seven catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns.
Mount Carmel finished the season by scoring 561 points, averaging 40.1 points per game. The Caravan didn’t score less than 20 points in any game.
“This is probably the most-electric offense in the state,” Deacy said. “When we’re able to start fast, it’s just really hard to slow us down.”
The seniors from last season’s team learned from their semifinal loss to Lockport along with their regular-season finale loss to Mount Carmel this season. They used both as motivation to beat Lincoln-Way East for the 8A title.
“That fueled us a lot,” Loyola quarterback Jake Stearney said. “That was a big learning curve for us on both sides of the ball. In the end, it paid off.”
Loyola’s lone loss of the season came against the Caravan, who went on to finish the season undefeated after winning the 7A title. The Ramblers came a few plays away from beating Mount Carmel, but their shortfall helped them reach their ultimate goal of winning a state title.
“We had a little hiccup in the Mount Carmel game, but I was telling these guys that we’re a really good team.” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “We’re a couple plays away from being undefeated.”
A successful first year for Tyler Plantz at Providence
After finishing the season 3-6 last season, the Celtics bought into Plantz’ style of play, which helped them advance to the title game.
“I could not be more proud of this group of seniors,” Plantz said. “They brought it back. They had an opportunity to be 3-6 after last year, they could’ve laid down.”
Providence grew as the season went on and hit its stride when it mattered the most in the playoffs. The Celtics qualified for the playoffs by winning its final game of the regular season and went on to take down top-seeded Richmond-Burton in the quarterfinals and came back to beat St. Francis in the final moments in the semifinals.
The players believe Plantz was the reason they got to Champaign, and they’re excited to see what’s next.
“It’s awesome to have Coach Plantz here,” senior defensive back Mason Straight said. “Great coach, great guy, super football savvy. We wouldn’t be here without him.