CCL/ESCC notes: Mount Carmel shines again in IHSA football playoff win over Prosepct

Caravan defense limits Knights to one offensive score

Mount Carmel celebrates winning the Class 7A state championship against Batavia on Saturday in Champaign.

Mount Carmel’s defense once again calmed the storm when the Caravan didn’t start Friday’s Class 7A second round game against Prospect the way they wanted to offensively.

The Knights ran out to an early 7-0 lead when they forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown but those would be the only points they scored until the start of the fourth quarter. The Caravan won 49-15 after the defense didn’t allow Mount Prospect’s offense to build any momentum in another dominant game.

“The defense played great all game,” Mount Carmel coach Jordan Lynch said. “Getting a couple turnovers, defensive touchdown, put the offense in a great spot.”

Charles Miles Jr. returned an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter and the defense continued its strong season by limiting an opponent to 15 or less points for the eighth time this season.

The Caravan defense has now allowed an average of 12.8 points per game. If the 33 points East St. Louis scored to open the season and the 23 points Loyola scored in Week 9 were taken away from the season’s total, the defense has allowed an average of 9.4 points per game.

“The defense played great all game. Getting a couple turnovers, defensive touchdown, put the offense in a great spot.”

—  Jordan Lynch, Mount Carmel head coach

Mount Carmel didn’t have too many returning starters from last year’s championship defense but many backups earned playing time because of the Caravan’s large leads late in games. Lynch credited three-year linebacker Parker Startz and the seniors for holding the players accountable to the team’s defensive philosophy of all 11 players swarming to the ball at all times, playing tough.

“Those guys have done a good job of holding each other accountable and playing hard,” Lynch said. “We practice pretty physical, it’s almost alive every practice. I think that’s something that carries into the game.”

Splitting up the road trip

Mount Carmel will split up its road trip to Quincy on Saturday as the Caravan travel 284 miles to play the Blue Devils in the Class 7A quarterfinals.

The road trip will take around five hours so Lynch said the team will leave early Saturday morning and make a stop at a school on the way to eat and get prepared for the game. Then the team will travel the remaining hour and 15 minutes before the teams kickoff at 4 p.m.

“We put our heads together and came up with this approach,” Lynch said. “It seems fine for us.”

Vikings make plays to advance

St. Laurence quarterback Evan Les knew the enormity of taking a 31-21 lead over Dixon in the third quarter of Saturday’s Class 4A second round game.

The Vikings made a critical defensive stop and then scored on a long run from Les in order to take momentum and build a comfortable lead. Les thought the play gave St. Laurence the confidence it needed.

“It’s so huge for us to get the ball back, and then for us to be able to put another touchdown on the board right away, it just flipped everything on its head,” Les said. “It made it a lot easier for everyone on the sideline, you can take a deep breath and look at the scoreboard and have a 10-point lead instead of three or a tie. It’s big-time.”

The Vikings did what they’ve done all season in order to make game-changing plays. They tightened up their defense and let it come down to one big play, which happened Saturday.

Les credited that series of events and other key third-down competitions to the Vikings believing they can make plays when it matters the most.

“We’re not fazed by long distances, we have faith in each other,” Les said. “We know that my guy’s going to catch the ball, and I’m going to put it where it needs to be, Aaron [Ball’s] going to run the ball. We all have faith that no matter how far the down-and-distance is, we can get it done.”

St. Laurence has been in a few games where the game came down to a few key plays. Coach Adam Nissen knew his team could capitalize based on past experiences.

“We’ve had probably three or four games I can think of this year where the same situation occurred, either a fourth-down stop or something’s happened and our offense, either Aaron [Ball] or Harley [Rizzs] or Evan, somebody makes a big play, and we go from the ones who were on our heels to being the one who’s attacking,” Nissen said. “We just made the plays when we needed to.”

Spartans keep momentum rolling

St. Francis continued its impressive run Saturday when it beat Sterling 49-8 in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs to win its eighth straight game.

The Spartans have beaten some of the better teams during that run and out scored both Rochelle and Sterling 94-22.

“I feel great [about how we’re playing right now],” quarterback Alessio Milivojevic said. “We’re just going to continue to come in everyday at practice, work, and, yeah, I think we’re going to get it done.”

The stretch started after the Spartans lost on a last-minute field goal to Fenwick in Week 4. Since then, St. Francis came away with close wins over Joliet Catholic, IC Catholic and St. Rita along with big wins over Leo, Nazareth, Rochelle and Sterling.

Two-way player Domenic Beres knows the Spartans need to continue what they’ve done in order to keep their run going against Morgan Park in the quarterfinals.

“It’s playoffs, we’ve gotta come out firing, and we always want to keep going and going,” Beres said. “So, firing off fast, taking every team seriously. We can’t look to the next week, because you never know what could happen.”

Wolfpack’s Justin Scott enjoying his run

St. Ignatius’ Justin Scott continued to show off his running skills in the Wolfpack’s Class 8A second round win over Huntley on Friday.

Scott, an Ohio State defensive line commit, rushed for 68 yards on eight carries, including a 29-yard touchdown run.

“They were slamming all the gaps, coach told me to bump it out,” Scott said. “I thought the last dude, I thought I was going to fall down after that, but I stayed up and got in the end zone. Yes, sir.”

Scott first started running in Week 9 against Joliet Catholic after having not done it as a varsity player the last three seasons. He was a fullback on the sophomore team as a freshman.

“I have a lot of fun running the ball here in my senior season,” Scott said.

Looking at the numbers

The CCL/ESCC has a chance to match the highest number of teams it’s had in the state semifinals since the megaconference formed in 2019.

Eight of the 11 teams playing in the quarterfinals this weekend can make it to the semifinals this year. Loyola, St. Ignatius, Mount Carmel, St. Francis, Carmel, Nazareth, Joliet Catholic, Providence, St. Laurence, IC Catholic and Montini all have a chance to move on. Six teams will be playing against conference foes — the Ramblers at the Wolfpack, the Roadrunners at the Corsairs and the Vikings at the Knights.

The CCL/ESCC had eight teams qualify for last season’s semifinals and seven in 2021. Five teams reached the final four in its inaugural season in 2019.

The most CCL/ESCC teams who can win a state championship is five and the most teams who can make the state championships is six.

  • Friday Night Drive reporters Ty Reynolds, Dan Wussow and Joe Stevenson contributed to this report