Mount Carmel wins Class 7A
Defense and running game ruin Nazareth repeat
By Steve Metsch
As Mount Carmel Head Coach Jordan Lynch noted Saturday night, “defense wins championships.”
Boy, does it ever.
The Caravan defense shut down a prolific Nazareth offense that came in averaging 44 points in the playoffs.
Mount Carmel held Nazareth to 137 yards of total offense, and won 37-13 to claim the Class 7A title at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium on a cold, wet, windy night.
Quarter Justin Lynch, the coach’s brother, scored five touchdowns as Mount Carmel controlled the clock with a running game that rolled up 316 yards and a defense that stymied Nazareth all night.
“You saw our defense out there. Our defense flew around and looked like it caused a lot of confusion on the offensive side of the ball,” Jordan Lynch said, praising the plan of defensive coordinator David Lenti.
Mount Carmel players celebrate after they won the state Class 7A championship by beating Nazareth, the defending champ, on Saturday night at Northern Illinois University. Photo by Steve Metsch.
Nazareth (13-1) had won 20 straight games. The Caravan (14-0) gave Lynch his first state title in his second year, and the school’s 13th.
A team that had long passing plays all season, Nazareth had just one for 62 yards. The ground game had just 21 yards on 22 attempts.
Junior J.J. McCarthy ran 10 times to lead Nazareth. It’s going to be a long night when your star quarterback – the one who committed to Michigan and who threw 33 touchdowns in 13 games – leads the team in rushes.
“They had a great defensive scheme, some nice blitzes (that) I thought J.J. did a heck of a job avoiding early … They kept us out of rhythm,” Nazareth Head Coach Tim Racki said.
A key play came in the third quarter with Mount Carmel leading 20-13.
Nazareth had just forced the Caravan to punt. After he was sacked at the 1, McCarthy scrambled left, was hit and fumbled. Mount Carmel recovered at the 12. Julian Patino’s 22-yard field goal made it 23-13 with 1:57 left.
Austin Maciel-Haygood, who fell on the ball, called that fumble ”(the) coolest things I’ve seen in my life … I wanted to score but I didn’t want to give the ball up.”
Lynch, who had scored on runs of 1, 13 and 1 yard in the first half, added two more – for 1 and 2 yards – in the fourth quarter to ice the win.
The Nazareth defense had a few big moments – freshman Kaleb Miller had a 65-yard interception return to open the scoring – but had no answer for Mount Carmel’s running game.
Kenanna Odeluga carried 29 times for 184 yards, while quarterback Justin Lynch ran 26 times for 124.
“We pride ourselves on running the football. When you have 36 (Odeluga) and No. 1 (Justin Lynch) running the football, no matter how many guys you put in the box or what you try to do, you still have to stop them,” Coach Lynch said.
Asked about five touchdowns Justin Lynch said: “It’s pretty easy when you have this one upfront blocking for me.”
“This one” would be Jalen Grant, a 275-pound senior lineman.
Grant said “we were just going to out-physical these guys from the point of attack from everywhere on the field … We just flew around and had some fun.”
The Caravan pass defense sacked McCarthy five times. He was 8 for 25 for 116 yards and one touchdown. Derrick Strongs, Jr.,scored on a 62-yard screen pass in the second quarter, cutting the lead to 14-13.
Caravan defensive end Marty O’Brien said: “We were going to disrupt routes because earlier games we watched they were able to run free. We wanted to disrupt their timing.”
Disrupt they did.
Star sophomore Tyler Morris, who had caught 17 touchdown passes in 13 games, grabbed three for 24 yards Saturday.
“They played me one low, one high. With the pressure they were bringing, it was hard for J.J. to keep his eyes downfield to try and find me,” Morris said.
Caravan reeceiver Tony Livermore, who said, “there’s no better feeling than holding up that trophy,” said the team’s secret weapon was Coach Jordan Lynch playing the McCarthy role in practice last week.
“We had a Heisman finalist practicing against our defense.” Livermore said.
Lynch, who starred at NIU, had reminded his brother he ran for 320 yards “last time I stepped on this field.”
“That’s a great coaching move … Mount Carmel had an excellent game plan in all phases,” Racki said.
McCarthy said the loss will inspire the team in 2020.
“The feeling I’m feeling right now is something I’ll never feel again. It’s going to very scary next year. There’s going to be something about this team next year that no one’s ever seen,” McCarthy said.
Nazareth played in its third straight title game and its fifth in six seasons.
Racki is now 7-2 in title games. He won four straight with Driscoll, and is now 3-2 with Nazareth. A win Saturday night would have been the 200th of his coaching career. His record is now 199-62 over 22 seasons.
“Who doesn’t want to go out on top? But you’re playing on the last day. That’s where you want to be,” he said.
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