This was new territory for Nazareth, at least this season: trailing at halftime and giving up a late lead.
But Jonah Beauduy didn’t lose faith when he trotted back out on the field with his team down in the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon.
“I just told everybody, once we got in that huddle, just to breathe,” Beauduy said. “Because we were going to be all right. I said, ‘We’re going to get back in this one.’”
The Roadrunners did, thanks to several big plays by their senior quarterback, including an 18-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Jackson with 3:36 remaining. That put No. 6 Nazareth ahead to stay in a 24-21 East Suburban Catholic win over No. 19 Joliet Catholic in LaGrange Park.
“They were blitzing to the right,” Beauduy said of the Hilltoppers on the decisive play. “I went to go throw right and the line held the blocks just long enough for me to get it to [Jackson] on a jump ball.”
Beauduy was big on the go-ahead drive, running once for 10 yards and completing two passes for 38 yards on the three plays before the touchdown. He finished 11-for-18 for 176 yards and ran 10 times for 45 yards.
Julian Love ran 11 yards for a first-half touchdown for Nazareth (7-0, 5-0), which trailed 14-7 at the break. Nolan Dean (25 carries, 91 yards) tied it with a 13-yard TD run at 7:38 of the third quarter and Michael Hillsman’s 36-yard field goal put the Roadrunners up 17-14 at 9:45 of the fourth.
The lead lasted all of 14 seconds as Harold Davis ran the kickoff back 99 yards for his second touchdown of the game and a 21-17 Hilltoppers lead.
How would the Roadrunners react? Hard to tell.
“We have not been in a game like this all season,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “ And that’s a blessing and a curse when things almost come too easy to you and then you get tested. And we knew we would be tested by Joliet Catholic.”
The nervous moments weren’t over for the Roadrunners. The Hilltoppers (5-2, 4-1) marched from their own 24 to the Roadrunners’ 24 and sent out one of the state’s premier kickers, Brian Bravo, to try a 42-yard field goal with 16.1 seconds left.
Decx Kelly-Martin broke through to get a hand on the kick, which was short, and Beauduy took a knee to clinch the win.
“Giving up the deep out route really hurt us,” Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp said. “[There were] some tackling issues. But overall, our kids played extremely hard. They kept us in the game early, which was really important. But there’s a lot of things we know we’ve got to clean up.”
Nick Borgra (19 carries, 82 yards) had a one-yard touchdown run at 5:17 of the second quarter to tie the score at 7-7 and Davis caught a 24-yard TD pass from Cade Earl (6-of-14, 86 yards) with 2:28 left in the quarter for a 14-7 lead.
“Just missed a couple big home runs with [Davis] too, which would have turned the game around,” Sharp said. “He’s definitely a guy who can stretch the field for us.”
Both teams lost key defensive players to injuries: Nazareth linebacker Daniel Bakovich and Joliet Catholic defensive back Brandon Bolek. The nature and severity of the injuries wasn’t known immediately after the game.