LA GRANGE PARK – Ben Niemann doesn’t crave the spotlight, but he sure took it against Nazareth.
The Sycamore senior had two touchdowns, including a 57-yard reception off a screen pass that ended up being the game-winner, in the Spartans' 33-28 win at Nazareth in La Grange Park Saturday afternoon. Sycamore advanced to take on Lincoln-Way West in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
“We knew going in that we were going to be able to get yardage off screens,” Niemann said. “It was a great feeling. It was a momentum changer.”
The big score gave Sycamore a 33-21 lead with 5:19 left in the game and appeared to be the knockout blow in a game Nazareth coach Tim Racki likened to a boxing match. However, the Roadrunners (8-3) answered with a four-play scoring drive to cut the lead to 33-28 with 4:06 remaining and got the ball back after a Sycamore three-and-out.
The Roadrunners took over on the Spartans’ 42-yard-line after a 6-yard punt, but Sycamore came up with the stop to hold on.
“It was a game of momentum and there was a lot of switches here and there,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. “We scored just one last time before they did and we held on. That’s just two good teams going at it.”
The two teams exchanged first-quarter touchdowns before Niemann’s first touchdown catch late in the second quarter. He snagged a 7-yard score on a fade route to give the Spartans (11-0) a 13-7 lead.
“I know it’s easy to say when you win, but he is the same no matter whether he is the star of the game or somebody else is the star of the game,” Ryan said. “Most of time he’s on the field he is the star of the game.”
Riley Hurley’s second 2-yard touchdown run gave Sycamore a 19-7 lead in the third quarter. Nazareth hit back quickly with a two-play, 84-yard scoring drive and regained the lead entering the fourth quarter.
Hurley’s third touchdown came after a Nazareth fumble in its own territory and then Niemann’s big screen play gave the Spartans the crucial two-score lead.
Some flashbacks to last year’s second-round game against Montini, a game Sycamore lost in the final seconds, came up during Nazareth’s late comeback attempt. This one had a happier ending for the Spartans.
“We didn’t want it to end like last year,” Niemann said. “This is a different team than last year. We just played really well and were able to get a stop.”