JOLIET – The game was downright weird.
But in the end, Joliet Catholic Academy remained unbeaten Friday night after surviving its East Suburban Catholic showdown with
Nazareth, 38-35, at ATI Field at Joliet Memorial Stadium.
The crazy thing was, the Hilltoppers (7-0, 5-0) appeared ready to turn the much-anticipated clash into another night of the running clock when they surged to a 31-0 halftime lead. Before it ended, however, Nazareth (5-2, 3-2) had gotten within 31-28 with 8:50 remaining and then within 38-35 with 0:58 left.
JCA was not able to breathe a collective sigh of relief until the Hilltoppers’ Colin O’Brien corraled the ensuing onside kick attempt.
“Yeah, we were able to hang on,” JCA coach Dan Sharp said. “But even when we had a 31-point lead at halftime, you would think you’d feel good, but I never did. Nazareth has a lot of talent, especially in the skill positions.”
Roadrunners quarterback Carson Bartels, who completed 20 of 38 passes for 355 yards, threw touchdown passes of 20, 84, 82 and 8 yards in the second half. Yet that still was not enough to overcome the breakout performance of
Hilltoppers sophomore wingback Ke’Von Johnson.
With the Nazareth defense keying on Joliet area rushing leader Michael Johnson, Ke’Von Johnson popped several big runs up the middle. He rushed for a career-high 207 yards in 17 carries and scored four TDs on runs of 16, 60, 19 and 16 yards. Michael Johnson needed 30 carries to pick up 105 tough yards.
After Nazareth scored to get within 31-28, Ke’Von Johnson returned the kickoff 52 yards to the Nazareth 43. That set up a five-play scoring drive, with Ke’Von Johnson taking it in from 16 yards out for the touchdown that wound up being the difference.
“They were flowing hard whenever Michael [Johnson] went in motion,” Ke’Von Johnson said. “I had to be the counter punch. Our offensive line blocked real well.”
“They were keying on
Michael, and we were able to do some things with our motion to get Ke’Von going,” Sharp said. “Our line blocked real well in the first half. In the second half, they [Roadrunners] did a much better job defensively, and we missed some blocks.”
The JCA offensive line of Tyler Witt, Ze’Veyon Furcron, Ricky Fleming, Shane Raber and Ethan Emerson from left tackle to right tackle controlled things from the get-go. The Hilltoppers marched 76 yards on the game’s first possession, with Ke’Von Johnson scoring on a 16-yard run.
Linebacker Patrick Tippet intercepted Bartels on Nazareth’s first possession, but the Hilltoppers could not convert the takeaway into points. However, on the first play following a Roadrunners’ punt, Ke’Von Johnson went 60 yard for a 14-0 lead.
Zach Lukasik, who was 5 for 5 on extra points, kicked a 21-yard field goal following Ken Aguirre’s fumble recovery at the Nazareth 4-yard line, making it 17-0 early in the second quarter.
“That was disappointing, only getting three points out of the two turnovers,” Sharp said.
Ke’Von Johnson’s 49-yard run set up a 5-yard Michael Johnson TD run for a 24-point lead. Luke Mander made the tackle to foil a fake punt attempt late in the second quarter, and Ke’Von Johnson ran 19 yards to the end zone on the next play to make it 31-0 at halftime.
Lukasik, who along with Mander man the defensive end slots, spent much of the night pressuring Bartels.
“Our goal was to pound them and pound them, and we finally got through this game,” Lukasik said. “They have good athletes.”
Several of Lukasik’s kickoffs intentionally were kicked high, forcing Nazareth to call for a series of fair catches. The idea was to prevent Notre Dame-bound Julian Love from getting his hands on the ball any more than was necessary.
“That was our goal, to kick it high, make them recover it and keep it away from Love,” Lukasik said.
Love caught two passes for 100 yards, including an 84-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and rushed for 55 yards in nine carries. Forty-one of those yards came on a run down the sideline where Aguirre, from his defensive tackle slot, ran him down at the JCA 24. The Roadrunners failed to score on that possession.
The Hilltoppers, who have been dealing with signifcant injuries, lost standout linebacker Brad Krisch on
Nazareth’s first offensive possession and lost Raber late in the second quarter. Both suffered knee injuries, the extent to be determined. Deonte Berry filled in at linebacker and Raymond Hernandez subbed for Raber at right guard.
Nazareth won the sophomore game, 48-16.