Mount Carmel’s offense wasn’t exactly stalled in the first half on Saturday against Lyons Township, but it wasn’t humming, either. The Caravan’s one touchdown drive was a 12-play march that garnered 30 yards in the air and 50, including Draco Smith’s 7-yard scoring dash off right tackle, on the ground.
Otherwise, the Caravan gained only 44 yards, the last eight of which set up Ivan Strmic’s 47-yard field goal. There was a similarity to how the offense sputtered against Providence, a game the Caravan narrowly won.
But the second half against the Lions? Mount Carmel gained 176 yards and scored 35 points, a touchdown on every possession leading to a 45-10 rout in a Class 8A quarterfinal game. And while the two scores set up by botched Lyons kickoff returns at the start of the third quarter were the shock treatment that led to a 24-10 lead, the drive that put the game away may have been the 14-play, 59-yard excursion against a wind gusting to 31 mph. The 7 minute 13 second drive was capped by Don Butkus’ 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal to make it 31-10.
“That drive just took the heart right out of them,” Caravan coach Frank Lenti said. “At that point, it was about keeping the clock running, moving the chains, shortening the chains.”
It was old-fashioned smash-mouth football, every play a rush, all but two between the tackles. A 7-yard scramble by Butkus on third-and-3 was the longest rush.
“Our offense made a big difference in the second half,” said running back Matt Domer, whose 70 yards on 16 carries included the touchdown runs following the kickoff turnovers. “If we play Mount Carmel football, nobody can handle it. We played that, and the results showed.”
Odds are with Caravan: In the Frank Lenti era, when Mount Carmel advances to the semifinals, it advances to the championship game nearly three-quarters of the time. The Caravan is 14-5 in semifinal playoff games since Lenti took the helm at Mount Carmel in 1984, and 14-3 when playing public schools such as Neuqua Valley, Saturday’s semifinal opponent.
The most recent semifinal success came two years ago, a 28-21 victory over Homewood-Flossmoor. That snapped a two-game semifinal losing streak (to Glenbard North in 2007 and Hinsdale Central in 2008). Prior to that, the Caravan had won in eight of their previous nine semifinal encounters, and had gone 5-3 in the subsequent state championship games.
Mount Carmel’s last state title was a 31-0 romp over Bloomington in 2002. If this year’s Caravan team wins the Class 8A championship, the victory will be Mount Carmel’s 100th in state playoff competition.
Saturday’s 45-10 defeat of Lyons Township gave the school a 98-18 record (.845) in postseason play.
Focused Warriors: Despite having outscored its opponents 117-44, Crete-Monee is not satisfied. Its goal has been to get to Champaign and senior Lance Lenoir said it is a matter of keeping that in focus.
"We are not done yet," Lenoir said. "We need to keep going and work even harder this week. We know what our goal is and we want to keep working towards it."
The Warriors (12-0) play at Lemont (11-1) in one quarterfinal game.
Road Warriors: Despite being the No. 1 seed in Class 6A and the No. 1 team in the Associated Pres poll, Crete-Monee will travel for its semifinal matchup with Lemont.
That is because Crete had three straight home playoff games, while Lemont had two home and a road game. The Illinois High School Association's formula says the team with the least amount of home playoff games will host.
"We are just looking forward to playing in the semifinals for the first time and we have to be prepared," Crete coach Jerry Verse said. "We know we will be facing a very tough and talented Lemont team.
Both teams played T.F. South with Crete winning 38-7 in the season opener at home, while Lemont lost at home 21-20 in overtime.
Tilley on the run: Crete-Monee's Kyle Tilley moved to wide receiver from running back this year, but got five carries for 13 yards in Saturday's 42-6 win over Ottawa in a Class 6A semifinal.
Tilley also had a rushing touchdown.
"It feels great to carry the ball again," Tilley said. "It was a great opportunity."
-- Compiled by Mike Nieto and Tim Cronin