There are a few things that separate Nazareth from most of the teams left in the playoffs.
The Roadrunners have come farther than most teams since the beginning of the season, shifting into overdrive in particular after the first month of the season to go on a six-game winning streak.
Nazareth relies more than many clubs on youngsters, with freshman running back Ivory Kelly-Martin and several sophomores playing key roles.
And then there’s the Roadrunners’ depth chart at running back, which goes into double digits.
On Saturday night at Gately Stadium, Daniel Backovich, Julian Love, Cyle Tucker and Kelly-Martin were in heaviest rotation as the No. 19 Roadrunners rolled past Brooks 37-13 in a Class 5A playoff opener.
Nazareth (8-2) will host Sycamore (10-0) in a second-round game next week. Brooks (8-2) will return to the Public League playoffs on a date to be announced.
Backovich had 12 carries for 42 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Roadrunners, Kelly-Martin contributed 64 yards and a score on 13 rushes and Love had seven runs for 46 yards and a score. Tucker added 37 yards on seven attempts.
“We’ve been doing it all year,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “If somebody gets dinged or they’re out, another kid’s coming in and he’s already used to carrying the ball. It’s nice to have a variety of weapons.”
He’d like even more as the postseason goes on.
“We’d like to get our passing game [going] because guys are going to be stacking the box against us,” Racki said. “So our play-action passing game has to improve and that’s what we’ll be working on this week.”
On the other side of the ball, Nazareth is looking pretty good.
The Roadrunners had four takeaways and one defensive touchdown, on Kevin Jackson’s 30-yard interception return early in the third quarter. That turned a 23-7 lead at the break into a 30-7 edge and Brooks didn’t get closer than 17 thereafter.
“We thought they were going to run, but we knew they were a good passing team,” said Jackson, a junior who had two of Nazareth’s three interceptions. “We had to make sure we stayed with them.”
Racki didn’t foresee a problem with that.
“They had incredible speed,” he said. “But overall defensively, we’ve got great speed as well. … From looking at them, we knew they had big-play ability and they did cut a couple. But defensively, we’ve been improving each week”
One looming concern, though, is turnovers. A Nazareth fumble led to the first of two touchdown runs by Brooks’ Tyree Dantzler, a one-yarder that gave the Eagles their only lead at 7-0.
“The ball-security thing is something we’ve been struggling with all year,” Racki said. “Our guys know in the playoffs, as you advance and you do that, you’re going to be turning in your pads on Saturday or Sunday if you continue to do that. It’s driving me crazy.”
But it wasn’t fatal Saturday.
Backovich’s first touchdown run started a 30-0 run for Nazareth that included a safety, another Backovich TD, Love’s nine-yard touchdown run and Jackson’s pick-six.
After Dantzler ran 20 yards for his second score, Kelly-Martin ended the scoring with a 12-yard run.