Nazareth’s JJ McCarthy and Notre Dame’s Anthony Sayles are the two most well-known quarterbacks in the area. McCarthy is a Michigan recruit and Sayles is a two-sport superstar.
But they both took backseats to the defenses on Friday in Niles as the No. 3 Roadrunners beat the No. 8 Dons 21-0.
The key play came in the first quarter. Nazareth senior Breven Reifsteck picked off Sayles’ pass and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown. It wasn’t a lucky break.
“I watched film with the defensive backs the entire week and we knew that was a route they were going to throw,” Reifsteck said. “I also watched the quarterbacks eyes and I saw the wide receiver break and I just picked it off.”
Notre Dame (7-1) played without starting running back Julian Schurr, who is out with a shoulder injury. The Dons were never able to establish much of a rhythm passing or running.
“We didn’t get what we needed to get offensively,” Notre Dame coach Mike Hennessey said. “There was a stop or two we missed on defensively. But one loss is not gonna make the season. It’s tough to experience a loss after you’ve done that well.”
McCarthy connected with Landon Morris on an 11-yard touchdown pass late in the second half. He didn’t hold back on his praise for the Dons’ defense, saying they were the best Nazareth has played against this season.
“By far,” McCarthy said. “They really studied us, they really got us down. They changed up a lot of things but we were able to adapt and we got it done.”
Sophomore Tyler Morris sealed the win with a 74-yard touchdown run in the final minute. He also had six receptions for 70 yards.
“They told me I didn’t need a touchdown,” Morris said. “I took that to mean that I shouldn’t do too much, just get the first down. But once I got there the hole was open so I just kept going.”
McCarthy was 13-for-26 passing for 124 yards and one touchdown. Derrick Strongs Jr. had 12 carries for 105 yards for the Roadrunners (8-0).
“[Notre Dame] has a great defense,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “I kind of had a feeling it was going to be a defensive battle. Our defense has been taking it up a level. They’ve been under the radar because of the offensive numbers we’ve been putting up. So it was nice that the defense was highlighted tonight.”
Both teams were held to season low point totals, but the 21 points surrendered by the Dons is the most they’ve allowed this season.
“The defense played outstanding,” McCarthy said. “It was just a great team win.”
Sayles was 11 of 29 passing for 103 yards. He threw two interceptions.
“Sayles is outstanding,” Racki said. “Our ability to get to the ball and fence him in and pressure him to throw was really a key.”
Earlier in the day Nazareth had its only loss of the season reversed. The Missouri high school association forced St. Louis Cardinal Ritter to forfeit the Week 1 win over the Roadrunners because they used an ineligible player.
“If the IHSA wants to put us [undefeated] that is fine,” Racki said. “So this will be the first time we have ever had an asterisk on the schedule. We lost the game and that is how we are taking it.”