CHAMPAIGN—Nazareth senior running back Nolan Dean was clearly going to be the guy Lemont would have to stop in the Class 6A state title on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Indians found out time and time again that task is easier said than done.
Dean finished with 39 carries for 199 yards and two touchdowns in the Roadrunners to a 26-7 victory.
Dean, who transferred from Neuqua Valley this season, eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing for the season in leading Nazareth (14-0) to its first state championship.
“It feels good to win this with this great group of teammates” Dean said. “We work hard and we stay humble. We took this one step at a time and it’s good to be done with all the steps.”
The Roadrunners did it behind an offensive line that averages 6-3, 285, and a solid defense that recorded three interceptions while holding the Indians (13-1) to their lowest point total of the year (previous was 17 points in Week 1 against Plainfield South).
Matthew Flach had two interceptions for Nazareth, while fellow defensive back Julian Love was tasked with defending Duke-bound receiver Flynn Nagel (6 catches, 70 yards). Nagel entered the game with 28 touchdowns receptions, one shy of the state record.
“We had a lot of expectations outside of our locker room and it’s something to live up to that,” said Nazareth coach Tim Racki, who won four state titles at Driscoll (2001,’02, ’03, ’04).
Kevin Jackson got the Roadrunners started in the first quarter with a 35-yard touchdown catch from Jonah Beauduy. Thomas Bleka answered with a four-yard run for the Indians to tie the game at 7-7. Dean scored his first touchdown with time running out in the first quarter on a one-yard run for a 14-7 lead that the Roadrunners took into halftime.
Dean showcased his power style of running in the third quarter when he dragged several defenders for most of a 15-yard gain. The run set up Love for a four-yard touchdown run to increase the lead to 20-7. Dean accounted for the final points on a 27-yard run on 4th-and-three with 10:29 left in the fourth.
“They had some size on both sides of the ball and they’re a great team,” said first-year Lemont coach Bret Kooi, who turned the Indians around after a 3-6 season last year. “I’m extremely proud of my guys and I feel bad for them and I’ll take the blame for that.