Class 6A playoff preview: Rockford Boylan at Nazareth

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First-seeded Nazareth (9-0) will play host to 16th-seeded Rockford Boylan (5-4) at 6 p.m. on Saturday in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs. Here’s what you should expect this weekend:

DIFFERENCE MAKERS

Nazareth

Nolan Dean, tailback, sr. ­— When Nazareth tries to establish the running game, Dean is the workhorse. He rushed for 1,274 yards on 156 carries during the regular season, while scoring 19 touchdowns. Against St. Viator Saturday, he was bottled up early, but broke loose for a 40-yard gain just before halftime. He finished with 99 yards on 16 carries, including a 12-yard TD run.

Julian Love, wide receiver/safety, jr. — It is rare when Love is not on the field for Nazareth, as he plays on both sides of the ball and is the team’s top punt returner. He was the second-leading rusher (49 carries, 406 yards, 5 TDs) and receiver (15 catches, 377 yards, 5 TDs) for the Roadrunners. He also had two interceptions on defense.

Rockford Boylan

Demry Croft, quarterback, sr. — Minnesota-bound Croft is the key to Rockford Boylan’s offense. He led the Titans in both passing and rushing. He completed 103 passes for 1,492 yards and 15 TDs, while rushing for 644 yards on 64 carries and nine TDs. In Boylan’s Week 9 loss, he threw for 225 yards and four touchdowns against Belvidere.

Ryan Stanicek, wide receiver, sr. — Stanicek was the leading receiver for the Titans, catching 27 passes for 348 yards and six touchdowns.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

When Nazareth runs …

The Nazareth backfield usually has a number of open holes to run through, as the Roadrunners’ starting linemen average 285 pounds and none is shorter than 6-foot. Jack Shutack, Michael Owens, John Brunory, Patrick Kilcommons and John Kilcommons have allowed Nazareth to average over 6.7 yards per carry heading into the playoffs. To make things even worse for opposing defenses, Nazareth will also bring in junior Bryan Behrendt as an extra blocker, who checks in at 6-5, 310 pounds.

When Rockford Boylanthrows the ball …

The Titans run a spread offense, and Croft’s favorite targets are Stanicek and Nalewanski (21 catches, 332 yards, 3 TDs). Rockford Boylan, no stranger to the playoffs, is making its 10th straight appearance. However, it is the first time the Titans have qualified with only five regular-season victories.

When Nazareth is on defense …

Linebackers Decxavier Kelly-Martin and Daniel Bakovich will try to disrupt the Titans as much as possible. Entering the St. Viator game, Kelly-Martin led the team with 16 tackles for loss. Against St. Viator, the Roadrunners forced three turnovers and had three sacks, including two by defensive lineman Joe Dmitri. Nazareth should be extremely energized on Saturday for the first home night game in school history.

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