CHICAGO | Matt Domer had to take a breath -- something he'd earned after rushing for 273 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries -- before considering the question.
But his answer spoke volumes of where his head and those of his Mount Carmel teammates are. They are anywhere but in the clouds.
The Caravan had just survived a first-class test handed them by St. Rita in the second half of their Class 7A round of 16 contest. The Caravan prevailed, 20-15, but not before surrendering a 14-point lead, then regaining it on a drive in which Domer carried eight times for 73 yards, the capper his 10-yard jaunt off right tackle. And then they still needed to create a pair of St. Rita turnovers to ensure the victory and a date next week with Downers Grove South.
So Domer was asked if he was worried when the Mustangs rallied to take the lead, 15-14, a dozen seconds into the fourth quarter.
"You always get a little second-guessing, but my guys, we practice hard throughout the week...We knew we were going to pull through," Domer said.
It wasn't easy, even after it looked easy in the first half that saw the Caravan (10-1) easily move to a 14-0 lead on scoring runs of four and two yards by Jimmy Mickens. The defense held the Mustangs (9-2) to 27 yards in the first half. But St. Rita rallied via a blocked-punt safety and two touchdowns by Julian Crum -- on a 40-yard rush and a 70-yard reception from Tommy Mister -- to stun the crowd of about 5,500 at Gately Stadium.
"We knew it was going to be a dogfight," Domer said. "They've got a little hate in their hearts, and we've got a little hate in our heart from the last time we played. Even though we got out early, they never gave up."
Mount Carmel won easily, 24-3, during the regular season. This was no regular season game, even by Catholic League Blue standards.
"There was a lot to lose in this game," Domer said. "We're close friends with them. This is the neighborhood. And everybody wants to win a state championship."
Mount Carmel, in particular, wants to defend, even though last year's title was in Class 8A. That raised the stakes.
The winning drive saw Domer bust out runs of 17, 22 and 10 yards, the latter for the score, with the Caravan converting twice on third-and-two to keep the ball moving. It was as cohesive a drive as Mount Carmel has mounted this year.
The victory earned the Caravan a date with another set of Mustangs. Downers Grove South (7-4) beat Wheaton Warrenville South 10-7.