EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. | When an offense piles up yardage and touchdowns the way Mount Carmel does, the defense can be overlooked.
That's a mistake. Edwardsville knew how tough the Caravan defense was going into Saturday's 7A semifinal game – the five shutouts this season stand out on the Mount Carmel record – and still it didn't help. A trio of Edwardsville turnovers, two of them triggered by Caravan defensive back Deontae Brown, was as big a factor in Mount Carmel's 34-7 victory as anything the offense created.
For the second straight week, the Caravan defense held their opponents to numbers that resemble a typographical error. Edwardsville, which entered the game undefeated and left it a stunned 12-1, was held to 3 yards rushing and 142 passing. Mount Carmel (12-1) has allowed only 14 rushing yards on 38 carries in the last two weeks.
Brown's interception of Edwardville quarterback Dan Marinko set up the second Mount Carmel touchdown in the game's first six minutes. He ran to his right, went into the sky for the ball at the Tigers' 33, and returned it to the 7. Four snaps later, Jimmy Mickens was in the end zone and it was 13-0.
"I just wanted to make a play on the ball," Brown said of his pickoff.
He came up as big on the ground in the second quarter, when the Tigers were threatening to score. D'Anthony Knight crashed off left tackle from the 2, and not only never crossed the goal line, but lost the ball. It ended up in the hands of Brown.
To Caravan coach Frank Lenti, stopping Marinko was the key to the outcome.
"He could play for anyone in our half of the state," Lenti said of the stylish junior. "We had to control him."
Blitzes accomplished that in the early going, though Marinko was able to move the ball, passing for 100 yards, most of it with the wind, in the first half. Yet, in the crunch, Mount Carmel's players made the necessary plays.
"We always tell our kids we're one play away," Lenti said, noting the adage applies to both good and bad.
As a result of all the good plays, it was 21-0 before the first quarter ended. Bad plays in the form of penalties for a late hit and pass interference, the latter as imaginary as a warm day in November, contributed to Edwardsville's only scoring drive, a five-play, 53-yard march late in the third quarter. Marinko hit Darius Crochrell on a 1-yard toss for the score, but after that, it was once again all Mount Carmel on both sides of the ball.
As a result, the Caravan is within a victory of its 12th IHSA state championship. The Caravan, which faces Lake Zurich (12-1) is 11-5 in title games, including last year's championship in Class 8A, the 10th crown earned by a team guided by Lenti.
"For once, we were an underdog," Lenti said, noting Edwardsville's No. 1 seed.
He'll be able to say that again this week, for Lake Zurich is the top see in the other bracket, but the defensive numbers tell another story.
"We play Mount Carmel football," Brown was saying as his teammates whooped it up in front of a hearty number of Caravan fans. "We just attack."