CHICAGO — Blainey Dowling stole the show on a historic night for Mount Carmel on Friday.
In the 100th meeting between Mount Carmel and St. Rita where two of the best teams in the state were set to square off in a tight battle, the senior quarterback got into a groove the Mustangs couldn’t break, leading the Caravan to a 35-3 win.
“He’s a winner,” Mount Carmel coach Jordan Lynch said. “The stadium is called Bardo-Dowling Stadium. He knows what this place is about, and he’s a gamer, he’s a winner.”
He learned quickly too.
After the Caravan offense went three-and-out on its first drive with three straight runs and couldn’t score on its second drive, the quarterback and Lynch adjusted the offense. Realizing the Mustangs were leaning heavily on the run, they started making quick passes, allowing their wide receivers to make plays in the open field.
Mount Carmel had an opportunity to score on a field-goal attempt from the St. Rita 23-yard line with 1:18 left in the first quarter, but the kick bounced off the right post. That was the last time the starting offense failed to score.
Dowling and the offense drove from its own 26-yard line on its first drive in the second quarter and scored when the quarterback found Damarion Arrington streaking to the end zone and hit him for the touchdown to make it 7-3 Mount Carmel with 8:53 left in the second quarter.
The Caravan only needed two plays on each of its next two drives to score, with Dowling completing a 54-yard pass to Danny Furlong to make it 14-3 with 6:23 left in the second quarter and hitting Darrion Gilliam for 48 yards to make it 21-3 with 3:26 left in the second quarter.
“Once you get in a groove, you get going,” Dowling said. “After one, two competitions, that’s when it starts going. Once you start clicking, you don’t really stop.”
Dowling added his fourth touchdown with :31 left in the second quarter when he hit Arrington for 12 yards to make it 28-3, then capped off the night with his fifth touchdown when he completed a 6-yard pass to Danyil Taylor Jr. with 2:23 left in the second quarter.
The quarterback finished with 317 passing yards and completed 19 of his 21 attempts in three quarters of work. Furlong led all receivers with 97 receiving yards, while Arrington added 65.
St. Rita’s three points came in the first quarter when Conor Talty hit a 51-yard field goal with 4:16 left in the first quarter to give the Mustangs an early 3-0 lead.
“We would not have been there without our defense,” Dowling said. “They played really well tonight. We would not have been in that game without that defense.”
The Mustangs were without offensive linemen Samuel Gomez and Nick Strelczyk and defensive lineman/tight end Eddie Vrdolyak because of injury.
St. Rita junior quarterback Jett Hilding made his first varsity start and struggled to get into a groove, completing one of his five pass attempts while rushing for 42 yards. Running back DJ Stewart rushed for 31 yards.
St. Rita coach Todd Kuska thought the offense might struggle to find its identity against a strong defensive front, but he’s not worried about what implications the opener could have on the rest of the season.
“We need to find our identity on offense,” Kuska said. “We’ll be all right, it’s only Week 1. We’ve been down this road before. Fast-forward 13 weeks and we’re in Champaign, I’ll be happy.”
The Mustangs continue their stretch of playing the CCL/ESCC Blue when they host Brother Rice on Friday; while the Caravan will travel to play Phillips on Saturday, Sept. 3.
Dowling was excited to get the win in a highly anticipated game, but was there something he could’ve done more in the season-opener?
“[Scoring] more than 35 points,” the quarterback said with a smile.