DEKALB – Playing in its first state championship football game, Lincoln-Way West failed to convert on third down in its first two possessions.
Normally, no harm done. The Warriors would have plenty of time to get their act together.
That was not the case Saturday as Nazareth Academy, the Class 6A champion in 2014 and a team that makes things happen in the blink of an eye, went on a scoring blitz in the second quarter to build a 35-0 halftime lead en route to a 42-21 victory in the Class 5A title game at Huskie Stadium at the Northern Illinois University campus in DeKalb.
“It was important that we get off to a fast start,” West coach Dave Ernst said. “The incomplete pass on third down in our early possession hurt.
“Still, we were OK in the field-position battle early on. Then they went on a 91-yard drive [for a 7-0 lead]. They’re fast, and they do a good job up front, too. They’re a real good team.”
West got its first two first downs and marched to the Nazareth 40 on its next possession before punting. Kevin Siemeck gave the Warriors good field position for the second time with his boot to the 4-yard line. But on the next play, Ivory Kelly-Martin broke through the ride side and went the distance for a 96-yard scoring run, the longest in any state championship game, to stretch the Roadrunners’ lead to 14-0.
“My O-line opened the hole to get me through the first level,” said Kelly-Martin, who rushed for 170 yards and four touchdowns. “Once I got to the second level, I knew what to do.”
His cutback at the West 40 left the final defender grasping at air.
West (11-3) was beginning to get its offense going, but Notre Dame-bound Julian Love jumped in front of the intended target and intercepted a Connor Lowman pass at the Nazareth 39.
Before halftime arrived, Kelly-Martin tacked on a 19-yard TD run and Carson Bartels (16 of 22 for 249 yards and two scores) threw touchdown passes of 40 yards to Christopher Simmons and 27 yards to Justin Weller, both in the final 1:23 of the half, to make it 35-0 at the break. Weller finished with eight receptions for 139 yards.
Nazareth (12-2) ended the half with 424 yards of offense against a West defense that came in allowing 219 yards a game and had been dominant in four playoff victories. The Roadrunners closed with 500 total yards to the Warriors’ 300.
Kelly-Martin’s fourth score, a 17-yard sweep to cap the opening drive of the second half, made it 42-0 and clicked on the running clock with 8:24 left in the third quarter.
West tailback Gabe Montalvo finished his senior season with 220 yards on 28 carries. He scored second-half touchdowns on runs of 7, 9 and 31 yards and finished the year with 2,494 yards and 31 touchdowns.
“It was nice that even though we were down big, we came together as a team and scored some touchdowns in the second half,” Montalvo said.
“They were faster than we thought,” all-state offensive tackle Justin Witt said. “The way we came out in the second half, we should have had that kind of intensity in the first half. But I am glad we came together at the end.”
Besides intercepting a pass on the first play of the fourth quarter, linebacker Jake Price led the Warriors’ defense with eight tackles, including six solo stops and a tackle for loss. Cody Conry, who broke up two passes, chipped in with six total tackles and Matt Murphy had five. Trey Telez and Dan Wainwright also contributed tackles for loss.
Offensively, Lowman completed 8 of his 22 passes for 82 yards. Dylan McHale caught three for 53 yards, including a 40-yarder off a flea-flicker from Lowman early in the fourth quarter that set up Montalvo’s 9-yard scoring run.
Nazareth’s last loss was to Joliet Catholic, 38-35, in Week 7, a game where the Roadrunners trailed, 31-0, at halftime. They got revenge, beating the Hilltoppers, 35-21, in the 5A quarterfinals.
“We were down to Joliet Catholic the first time, 31-0, at halftime when they really took it to us, and even though we lost, 38-35, we came back, and that’s where we grew up as a team,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “Sometimes you take a loss where you learn from it.”
Lincoln-Way West happened to run into the well-educated version of the Roadrunners, spoiling the Warriors’ bid for a state title.