DOWNERS GROVE | The rain pelted down and the wind prevented a precision passing game.
In other words, perfect weather for Mount Carmel football. Only the presence of FieldTurf on Downers Grove North's field prevented a mud bowl with the Trojans in their Class 7A quarterfinal game.
Mount Carmel would have won on concrete or in quicksand. The Caravan's 7-0 victory before about 3,000 spectators — ensuring a semifinal date against undefeated Edwardsville next weekend — was won the old-fashioned way, with a solid ground game and punishing work at the line of scrimmage.
And by Marko Boricich's 11-yard touchdown pass to Sam Connolly, the one-handed grab in the end zone on fourth-and-4 from the Trojans 11 late in the second quarter the exception that proved the rule.
"He had my right arm pinned, and I just tried to make a play on the ball," Connolly said.
Otherwise, the ball was kept on the ground by the Caravan. Matt Domer's 28 carries garnered 155 yards. Mount Carmel gained 225 ground yards on 57 carries, with Boricich throwing only nine times, his three completions totaling 22 yards. The ground game led to a 66-29 advantage in plays for Mount Carmel (11-1).
Numbers aside, Caravan coach Frank Lenti didn't like much of what he saw on that side of the ball. There was a fumble by Jimmy Mickens, a couple of missed blocks that could have kept drives going, and miscellaneous other sins that a perfection-oriented coach to pick on.
"Just way, way, way, way, way too many miscues on offense," Lenti said. "We stopped ourselves with foolish penalties, and way too many guys in the offensive line played satisfied. The whole thing was out of sync."
Lenti's complaint aside, there was enough offense to get the job done. But Mount Carmel's defense carried the day in scoring its fifth shutout of the season, holding Downers Grove North (7-5) to 26 yards, and only 11 on the ground on 17 carries. The Trojans managed only one first down.
"Our goal is to hold a team to negative yards," Mount Carmel lineman Enoch Smith Jr. said. "I felt as if we did a pretty good job."
A trio of Trojan quarterbacks went a combined 3-of-12, with three interceptions. Christian Searles' late theft of Vontae Diggs, his second interception of the day and eighth of the season, sealed the outcome.
"My ankle was hurting, so I knew I couldn't get beat deep, so I played off more," Searles said. "I saw him throw the ball, and my ankle pain went away."
Searles returned the interception 37 yards to the Trojans 3, and the Caravan ran out the clock, capturing a victory that was as narrow as the score showed.
"When you have two running teams, the game's only going to be separated by a handful of plays, so you've got to make plays when you can," Searles said.
Pressure the Caravan line put on Sebastian Calvino, David Edwards, and Diggs caused the three interceptions.
"I told the kids early this season, and even this week, it all comes down to our guys up front," defensive coordinator David Lenti said. "If we control the line of scrimmage, it allows us to make plays behind those guys."
As was true on offense. Domer's big day pushed him to 1,121 yards on 130 carries in a season where injury caused him to miss several games. On the other extreme, Connolly's catch was only his third of the year, and his first touchdown, to go with two interceptions this season.