NEW LENOX | The adage that defense wins championships has been proven again and again.
There's an addendum to that: Defense can also boost a team getting ready for the playoffs.
That was the case Friday night at Matt Senffner Field, where Times No. 2 Mount Carmel took advantage of six Providence turnovers – some forced, some gifts – to score a 17-0 victory over the Celtics.
The outcome, the Caravan's eighth success in nine weeks, earned them a 3-1 record in the Catholic League Blue, solo second behind Loyola Academy (9-0, 4-0), and can't hurt them when the IHSA's playoff pairings are announced tonight.
However, the game didn't feel like a sure thing until the second half was well along, even though the Celtics committed three turnovers in the first quarter alone. Mount Carmel's offense was off-kilter for a time, leaving it to the defense to save the day.
It did, with Vince Speller making the game's biggest play. With the Celtics marching, Speller grabbed a poor pitch by Providence quarterback Dominic Lagone on one hop and ran 88 yards down the south sideline for the game's first score with 10.5 seconds left in the first half.
"Fourteen-point swing," Caravan coach Frank Lenti said. "That switched the momentum of the game. Otherwise, our momentum is down a little bit."
"Scoop and score," Speller added. "I didn't have anybody behind me."
It was Providence's fourth turnover of the game, but the first one the Caravan could take advantage of. Still, Speller loved the nature of the contest, including Providence's first turnover, a loose ball at the goal line that he and Justin Sanchez fell on to prevent a Celtics score.
"We were just, 'Get to the ball,' and eventually we did," Speller said. "Our defense was ready. Providence beat us last year, so this was the road to redemption."
The defensive stand included holding the Celtics (6-2, 2-2) to 180 yards, split evenly between offense and defense. The fact the Caravan gained only 194 yards was immaterial, given the outcome. Don Butkus might not have completed a pass (he was 0-of-7), but he could hold his hands high after the game, and, like his teammates, goes into the playoffs with a victory.
Ivan Strmic's 37-yard field goal and Draco Smith's 3-yard plunge completed the scoring, but holding the Celtics scoreless and making Brandon Price's 100-yard rushing game meaningless.
"Our coach says, 'Let's not limp into the playoffs, let's sprint into the playoffs,'" Speller said.
The run is on.