By Jeff Vorva
Nazareth coach Tim Racki entered this season with 198 career victories.
No. 199 on Saturday was completely different than the other 198. He helped guide the Roadrunners to a 35-7 season-opening home win over St. Laurence in the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference Orange division.
After the fall season was wiped out because of COVID-19 concerns, and last week’s schedule opener against Fenwick was cancelled because of COVID within the Friars program, Racki employed a different strategy.
“I did something I had never done in my career as a head coach, as I had every player on the roster play early,” he said. “I played all three of my quarterbacks. My plan going in was after what these kids have been through this past year … these kids have been Zooming or shut down for an entire year so I wanted them to play.
“They are only allowing parents in for games. There are no playoffs. I’m going to play every one of my kids and not just at cleanup time. These parents, after being shut down, they are coming here and I’m not going to have [their kids] standing on the sideline. I’m going to have them see their kids play and whatever the result is or what the scoreboard reads, so be it.”
This time, the scoreboard was a good read for the Roadrunners as Racki racked up the win. He was 76-13 at Driscoll with four state titles from 1998-2004 and is 124-49 at Nazareth with three state championships. He estimates 37 or 38 players on his 40-man roster were available to play against St. Laurence.
Sophomore receiver Kaleb Miller caught a 20-yard pass from Aidan Piper for a touchdown to start the scoring. Quentrell Harris, a transfer from Lyons, had an electrifying 80-yard interception return for another score as he juked and broke tackles en route to the end zone.
“It feels great to be out there,” Harris said. “On that play, at first I was backing up and I saw [Vikings quarterback Darius Wilson] bootleg. I saw him throw it and I committed to it and just took it to the house.”
Ethan Comer and Jacob Eraci each had rushing touchdowns for the Roadrunners, and Piper hit Tyler Morris for a 44-yard score.
St. Laurence (0-2, 0-2) was happy to have Wilson back after the dual-threat quarterback came out of Week 1’s 49-0 loss to Joliet Catholic Academy with a knee injury. He threw for 45 yards and ran for 37 more.
“He was cleared Tuesday and he had two days of practice,” Vikings coach Adam Nissen said. “We wanted to be pretty careful with him after his injury. He’s our leader and it was good to have him back. He’s a warrior.”
With Nazareth leading 7-0, the second quarter opened with officials ruling Wilson fumbled in the Nazareth end zone. The Roadrunners’ Peter Roll recovered and the play changed the momentum of the game.
Coaches who saw the replay said Wilson crossed the goal line and that his knee was down before the fumble.
“From our angle and our film, it is what it is,” Nissen said. “Even though we didn’t get the call, we have to respond to it better.”
After St Laurence went more than 87 minutes of game clock without a touchdown this season, junior Matt Ochoa broke through with a 14-yard TD run with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left in the game. He finished with 126 yards on 23 carries.
Nazareth is scheduled to visit De La Salle Thursday. St. Laurence is slated to visit Benet the same night.