Nazareth’s Nolan Dean is one smart running back.
He knows who to thank right up front: that offensive line doing the heavy lifting.
But as Dean showed again and again Friday night, sometimes it’s a good block up front. Sometimes, it’s the star running back making a play out of nothing.
Rushing 32 times for 201 yards and four touchdowns, Dean’s workhorse performance helped carry Nazareth to a 37-21 East Suburban Catholic win at Marist.
“It might have been my day, but it’s always the offensive line,” Dean said. “Our offensive line is the best I’ve ever seen, and I’m not joking. Those are some big boys. If they show me the way, I’ll make it happen. If not, I’m still trying but we clicked today.”
With a win next week against St. Viator, the Roadrunners (8-0, 6-0) will clinch the conference title outright, the program’s first since 2011 when Nazareth finished in a tie with Marist.
Friday’s victory came courtesy of Dean’s huge day on the ground and a dominant defensive performance in the second half.
Having given up three touchdowns in the first half, Nazareth held Marist scoreless in the second. Early in the fourth quarter, Kevin Jackson came up with a huge break-up in the end zone on a Marist pass.
“If we’re down, we let ourselves be down so coach [Tim] Racki says we’re the only ones who can beat us,” Dean said. “Our defense, our offense, we had a good test [Friday] and passed it.”
Dean proceeded to march down the field, breaking tackles left and right on Nazareth’s next drive, finally rumbling in for a 2-yard touchdown to put the Roadrunners up 30-21.
He added his fourth score less than two minutes later, sealing the win. Nazareth scored 17 unanswered points to end the game.
“We came in and won as a team,” Dean said. “We like these kind of games. Coach Racki said, ‘Breathe and stay focused.’ We had to get this win.”
Carson Bartels finished 8-for-10 passing for Nazareth for 109 yards while adding a rushing touchdown. The Roadrunners piled up 324 rushing yards. Michael Hillsman drilled a 20-yard field goal early in the third to put Nazareth up 23-20.
Marist (4-4, 3-3) was led by quarterback Ryan Skalitzky (12-for-23 passing, 107 yards, two touchdowns) and Darshon Mccullough (21 rushes, 85 yards, touchdown).
The RedHawks will face Joliet Catholic in Week 9 in a must-win situation to be eligible for the playoffs.
“We had some chances, some good opportunities, and didn’t capitalize,” Marist coach Pat Dunne said. “We’ve been treating each week like it’s a playoff week. That’s our attitude every day in practice. We know what we have to focus on and learn from this one.”