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Strong second half lifts Mount Carmel over St. Rita for trip to 7A title game

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By Steve Millar 
Correspondent

After the Mount Carmel offense was shut out in the first half by St. Rita in the teams’ IHSA Class 7A semifinal, Caravan coach Jordan Lynch remained confident his offense would get going on a cold, windy night.

“It was just a matter of time,” Lynch said. “Penalties were killing us, dropped passes. We needed to stick to the script. We talked about how coming on the road, you can’t try to do too much.

“Thankfully, the defense played their butts off, kept us in the game and gave us a chance.”

Senior quarterback Blainey Dowling made just enough plays in the second half, connecting on a pair of touchdown passes to Denny Furlong, and the Caravan defense did the rest as the Caravan rallied for a 20-9 win over the rival Mustangs on Nov. 19.

Mount Carmel advanced to take on Batavia (10-3) in the 7A state championship game set for 4 p.m. Saturday at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

The Caravan is after the program’s 14th state title and first since 2019.

Mount Carmel (13-0) beat St. Rita (10-3) for the second time this year, including a 35-3 win in the season opener.

“We just all came together as a team, believed in one another and got it done,” Furlong said.

The Mustang defense frustrated the Caravan in the first half and the latter’s high-powered passing attack was not quite clicking. Dowling completed just four of his first 14 pass attempts and was 7-for-17 in the opening half.

He got going, however, on the first drive of the third quarter, hitting Furlong for a 10-yard pass and Damarion Arrington for a 25-yard pass to set up a 21-yard touchdown strike to Furlong.

“That drive gave us really good momentum on offense,” Furlong said. “And the defense came out and held them to three field goals.”

Alabama recruit Conor Talty hit field goals from 36, 27 and 23 yards for St. Rita, which led 9-7 after three quarters.

Mount Carmel turned the game around for good with two touchdowns in a 49-second span midway through the fourth quarter.

Dowling and Furlong hooked up again for a 13-yard score with 6:18 left in the game. Two plays later, Arrington intercepted a Jett Hilding pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.

Just like that, the Caravan had a 20-9 lead.

“We’ll always have the offense’s back no matter what,” Arrington said. “Every game, we’ll have their back.”

Danny Novickas added a game-sealing interception in the final minutes. Bobby Medina had a fumble recovery, a sack and a tackle for loss for the Caravan defense.

“The offense was struggling,” Dowling said. “We got some touchdowns in the second half. But defense wins championships. Those guys stepped up big time. Damarion Arrington gets that pick six and that changed the game. He’s a big-time player.”

Dowling finished 16 of 31 passing for 221 yards. Furlong had seven catches for 123 yards.

For St. Rita, DJ Stewart was a workhorse, carrying the ball 34 times for 136 yards. The Mustangs were held to 23 yards passing.

Zack Clark and Keyandre White had interceptions for the Mustangs.

The loss was the final game of St. Rita coach Todd Kuska, who is retiring after 25 years as a head coach.

“I told the seniors to come from where we started to where we now, who would have thought we would have been in this game against Mount Carmel after the way the first game went against them?” Kuska said. “It shows how far we’ve come, and these guys just kept working hard to get better to get to this point and have a chance in a game like this. We just came up a little short.”

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