CHICAGO — When Mount Carmel’s Damarion Arrington locked eyed with St. Rita quarterback Jett Hilding, he didn’t just see an easy interception and open path to the end zone.
He saw the path to Champaign and the Class 7A state title game.
The Caravan linebacker read Hilding perfectly and ran right in front of his throw to return it 30 yards for a touchdown, sealing Mount Carmel’s 20-9 semifinal win over St. Rita on Saturday and a trip to the state championship.
“I read the quarterback’s eyes,” Arrington said. “He didn’t see me, I came up and took it.”
The interception sealed a win that a few minutes before was in doubt. Mount Carmel (13-0) trailed 6-0 at halftime and trailed again, 9-7, at the end of three quarters before the Caravan went back to running an offense it had all season.
Mount Carmel started a drive on its 26 with 9:14 left in the game after just having recovered a fumble. The Caravan marched down the field from its own 26 and quarterback Blainey Dowling found Denny Furlong for a 13-yard touchdown to make it 13-7 after a failed two-point conversion with 6:19 left in the game.
TOUCHDOWN: Dowling finds Furlong for a 13-yard pass to score and give Mount Carmel a 13-9 lead with 6:18 left in the game. 2-point conversion was no good. pic.twitter.com/WHu92TgAEj— Michal Dwojak (@mdwojak94) November 20, 2022
Then Arrington scored within the next minute to secure another second-half comeback for the Caravan.
“We stayed confident.” Arrington said. “I trusted my guys, trusted my quarterback and I knew we were going to come out in the second half and do our thing.”
Mount Carmel struggled to move the ball in the first half because of 10 penalties and dropped balls. Down 6-0 to start the second half, the Caravan drove 80 yards on its most-complete drive of the game, scoring on a 21-yard pass from Dowling to Furlong with 9:03 left in the third quarter.
Dowling completed 18 of his 33 passes for 211 yards, throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions. Alonzo Manning II rushed for 59 yards and Furling finished with 102 receiving yards.
“The defense kept us in the game, all game,” Mount Carmel coach Jordan Lynch said. “It was a matter of time before Denny Furlong and Blainey Dowling got going.”
St. Rita (10-3) controlled the pace for much of the first half, running out to a 3-0 lead when Conor Talty made a 36-yard field goal with 6:19 left in the second quarter and a 27-yard field goal with 2:36 left in the game. The Mustangs went into the Caravan red zone twice and couldn’t find ways to advance past the Mount Carmel 6.
The Mustangs took a 9-7 lead after Talty made a 23-yard field goal with 55.6 seconds left in the first half, but the Mustangs failed to regroup after Arrington’s interception.
Hilding completed two of his 16 pass attempts for 18 yards and threw two interceptions and DJ Stewart rushed for 142 yards.
“I think we showed we were right there, the ball didn’t bounce our way a couple times.” said St. Rita coach Todd Kuska, who coached his last game for the Mustangs after 25 years. “I thought we withstood a great offense, our defense played phenomenal tonight and we just couldn’t get a lot of things offensively and that’s a credit to them. It was a great football game.”
Mount Carmel will travel to Champaign’s Memorial Stadium on Saturday to face Batavia for the Class 7A state title. The two teams met in last season’s playoffs, which ended in controversy. Both teams will be motivated as Mount Carmel tries to finish an undefeated season and Batavia tries to get revenge.
“We’re ready,” Dowling said. “We’re ready and we’re going to compete for a state championship.”