CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. --After scoring on a fumble return on the first play of the game and piling up 251 rushing yards against one of the area's toughest defenses, the Prairie Ridge Wolves advanced to the IHSA Class 6A semifinals for the third consecutive season with a 35-7 win over Nazareth Academy on Saturday afternoon.
Coming into the contest, the Roadrunners had yet to allow a 100-yard rusher during the postseason, but Prairie Ridge senior Connor Greenwald collected 113 of his game-high 165-yards in the first half. The Wolves' defense limited Nazareth to just 59-yards on the ground.
"Nazareth is heck of a team. With the athletes that they have, we preached all week long that our 11 on offense, defense and special teams had to step up and play their best game of the season - and they did," said Prairie Ridge head coach Chris Schremp. "And our coaches, man, what a great game plan. Our coaches worked so hard to get this done and get our kids in the right position to make plays. It was a great team effort."
Following a touchback on the opening kickoff, Prairie Ridge senior defensive back John Borst scooped up a Joshua Moore fumble on the first play from scrimmage and ran 18-yards for the touchdown. Prairie Ridge (11-1) would increase its lead to 14-0 just two drives later as quarterback Nick Nissen ran for a five-yard touchdown and Greenwald's one-yard dive late in the second quarter allowed the host Wolves to take a 21-0 lead into halftime.
"[Connor] was hurt at the beginning of the week with a leg injury and was rehabbing it before school, after school, after practice, and he just came out and did a great job," Schremp said. "I give a lot of credit to our trainer - our trainer worked his butt off this week."
Despite Nazareth's Kevin Curtin scoring on a 50-yard fumble return on the Wolves' opening drive of the second half, Prairie Ridge would weather the storm and score a pair of fourth quarter TDs to send the Roadrunners (10-2) home for the season. In the final five minutes of regulation, Nissen found junior Jordan Getzelman on nine-yard touchdown pass and later ran for a 24-yard touchdown.
"They're a great team. We know at this point that everybody is great but they really capitalized on the mistakes that we made and they really got off the ball well," said Nazareth head coach Tim Racki. "We had our opportunities but it just wasn't our day today. We never really got into a rhythm and at this stage of the playoffs every down counts."
Curtin recovered a pair of fumbles in the game and rushed for a team-high 37 yards on 10 carries. Nazareth quarterback Sam Poulos finished 9-for-13 for 70 yards before leaving the game with a lower-body injury late in the third quarter.
Nissen threw for just 39 yards on 4-for-7 passing, but the senior also picked up 62 yards on 12 carries. Getzelman, the Wolves' big-play threat on offense, was held to 13 yards on the ground while catching three passes for 25 more.
Now Prairie Ridge will see if it can get the monkey off of its back next week against either Batavia or Lakes. The Wolves have fallen in the semifinals in each of the past two seasons and both losses came against the eventual state champions (Cary-Grove in 2009 and Rockford Boylan last year).
"Hopefully we'll have the answer this year," said Schremp. "This team believes they can do it. The last couple of years, I think we were still Prairie Ridge just building a program and I think the guys now believe that they can do as much as they want to do."
Player of the game: Prairie Ridge Sr. RB Connor Greenwald: 25 carries, 165-yards, TD; Sr. QB Nick Nissen: 101 yards total offense, 3 TDs. Nazareth Sr. RB/DB Kevin Curtin: 10 carries, 37 yards & 2 fumble recoveries, TD
Stat of the game: It took Greenwald just seven carries to reach 100-yards rushing in the first half.
It was over when: Prairie Ridge recovered a muffed-punt and scored two-plays later to increase its lead to 28-7 with 4:58 to play.
Quote of the day: "Our expectations were to go beyond today but that wasn't in the lord's plan. But I told these guys, the amount of fun that we had this year, the respect that we gained, a conference title, getting to the 6A quarterfinals which has never been done, after the pain eases off today we'll have a tremendous amount of memories. It was a blast coaching these guys this year - it's absolutely a season to remember." - Nazareth Academy head coach Tim Racki.