CRYSTAL LAKE – As Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” blasted from the public-address system, Prairie Ridge’s players, huddled near midfield, thrust their helmets into the air and screamed with the chorus, “So good! So good! So good!”
Good times, indeed, never seemed so good for the Wolves.
Ten seconds into Saturday’s IHSA Class 6A playoff quarterfinal game against Nazareth Academy, Prairie Ridge, which had kicked off, had a lead.
The offense was solid. The defense was suffocating. The result was easy on their fans’ nerves as the Wolves rolled to a 35-7 victory at Prairie Ridge Athletic Stadium. No. 2-seeded Prairie Ridge (11-1) will play at No. 1 Batavia (12-0) at 1 p.m. next Saturday. It will be the Wolves’ third consecutive semifinal appearance.
“Our offense has come out a number of games and punched it in on the first drive,” said Wolves defensive back John Borst, who returned a fumble for a touchdown on the game’s first official play. “We were excited to get out there first. I was in the right place at the right time and was able to scoop and score and give our team a good start. We couldn’t ask for a better start.”
After Nick Margiotta booted the opening kickoff for a touchback, linebacker Nathan Kirchberg, starting in place of injured Corey Peterson, broke through and stripped Nazareth running back Joshua Moore. Borst picked it up at the 16 and raced for his first varsity touchdown.
Prairie Ridge added two more first-half touchdowns as fullback Connor Greenwald, who finished with 158 yards, ran for 113 by halftime. Nazareth (10-2) managed only 53 rushing yards for the game and Moore, who rushed for 1,226 yards, was held to 5 yards.
“We knew Nazareth was going to be a tough opponent, as we could see from the week before (a 24-0 victory over Cary-Grove),” linebacker Josh Hrudicka said. “We wanted to make a statement and show everybody we’re for real. We knew what we had to do and everybody executed and did their one-eleventh.”
Nazareth finished with 155 total yards and lost three fumbles against the Wolves. The Roadrunners scored on Kevin Curtin’s 48-yard fumble return in the third quarter, and only made it inside Prairie Ridge’s 35-yard line once, that coming on a blocked punt.
“Our defense was unbelievable,” Wolves coach Chris Schremp said. “All year, when we need them to make a play, they always seem to come up with it. Our tackling was phenomenal. I say that all the time, but it’s the truth.”
Nazareth gained a little momentum after Curtin’s touchdown and the blocked punt. But even after taking the ball on Prairie Ridge’s 20 after the blocked punt, the Roadrunners did not score.
“It was awesome. It was indescribable how well [the defense] played,” Greenwald said. “We’re really confident in them and happy to have them on our side.”
The Wolves scored two more times in the fourth quarter to kick off the celebration. Quarterback Nick Nissen carried 13 times for 67 yards and two touchdowns to go with Greenwald’s big game.
“[Prairie Ridge] is a great team. At this point, everybody’s a great team, but they really capitalized on the mistakes we made,” Roadrunners coach Tim Racki said. “We never really got in a rhythm [offensively], and in this stage of the playoffs, every down counts and whoever capitalizes on those miscues is big.”