LA GRANGE PARK – Both Nazareth and Sycamore prefer to play a physical style of football so it was no surprise that the game went down to the wire with big plays from both teams.
The Spartans made the extra plays in the fourth quarter to pick up a 33-28 win in a back-and-forth Class 5A second round playoff game in La Grange Park Saturday afternoon.
Iowa recruit Ben Niemann caught two touchdowns, including what ended up being the game-winner on a 57-yard screen pass in the fourth quarter. Naz had the ball inside Sycamore territory trailing 33-28 with 2:11 left, but were unable to get the score.
“We likened it to a boxing match,” Naz coach Tim Racki said. “Both teams are very physical.”
After exchanging touchdowns in the first quarter, Niemann caught an 8-yard touchdown to give Sycamore a 13-7 lead, which was the halftime score. The Spartans (11-0) scored first in the second half to double the lead, but Naz answered quickly.
Freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin busted through for a 51-yard run and Julian Love scored on the next play on a 33-yard run. Later in the third Chris Simmons gave Naz a 21-19 lead on a 2-yard score.
In the fourth, the Roadrunners fumbled inside their own territory and Sycamore took advantage to regain the lead. Niemann’s 57-yard TD made it 33-21 with 5:19 left in the game and appeared to be the decisive blow.
However, a 35-yard pass from Carson Bartels to Kevin Jackson capped off a quick four-play scoring drive for Naz to cut it to 33-28. The Roadrunner defense forced a three-and-out and a six-yard punt gave Naz the ball on the Sycamore 42, but they were unable to score and the season ended with a 8-3 record.
“My kids did what I ask them to do every week,” Racki said. “I’m not the least disappointed. They gave max effort. They went full speed. They never quit. That’s how this team is.”