Carmel High School football coach Andy Bitto and his players can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
After missing the postseason the past two years, the Corsairs need one win in their final two games to become playoff eligible. Prior to the dry spell — which saw Carmel finish 3-6 in 2012, and 2-7 in 2013 — they’d made the playoffs 12 straight seasons.
All those recent bitter memories could change when the Corsairs (4-3, 3-2 East Suburban Catholic) host division foe Marian Central (4-3, 2-3) on Friday night.
The winner would likely have enough playoff points to qualify due to their rugged schedules.
“Winning is a learned thing,” Bitto said. “Making the playoffs would be a huge boost for our program. Being in this position, and having a chance to do something our team set as a goal from Day 1, just goes to show how hard our seniors and the rest of our players have worked to put themselves in this position.”
That doesn’t mean the Corsairs are taking anything for granted.
Even with Hurricanes starting QB Billy Bahl out due to a Week 7 ejection that stemmed from a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
It’s significant because Bahl is committed to Miami (Ohio) and has been a huge part of Marian Central’s offense.
“We need to make sure we don’t let anything go to our heads,” Carmel senior offensive lineman Patrick Lyman said. “We have to keep our composure, because Marian Central is a really good football team, and they have a strong defense too. But as a group, we’re excited about the opportunity in front of us.
“Personally, I’ve never been a part of anything like this,” Lyman added. “Everyone on this team loves each other. We all get along, and win or lose, we’re on the same page. I’m so grateful to be involved with Carmel football this season. I’m not knocking anyone, but the dynamic inside our locker room, at team workouts … it’s completely different this time. We feel like we’re close to being a well-oiled machine with a just a few adjustments here or there.”
According to Bitto, players like defensive lineman Liam Griffin, tight end Noah Turner and offensive lineman Sean Foster have been huge difference-makers.
Turner has scholarship offers from Illinois and Indiana.
And as a 6-foot-8 junior, Foster has offers from 13 schools: Indiana, Illinois, Toledo, California, Syracuse, North Carolina State, NIU, Purdue, Missouri State, Nebraska, Buffalo, Kentucky and Nevada.
The excitement is measurable as game night approaches.
“I’ve watched Carmel football my whole life, and every year they made the playoffs so having the opportunity (to do the same) is just a dream coming true,” Turner said via Twitter.
The Corsairs’ offense has scored at least 20 points in each of its seven games, and hopes to repeat that feat against the Hurricanes.
Carmel has averaged 28.4 points per game in its five division contests, while allowing an average of 19.8 defensively (during ESCC play).
“The two losing seasons are behind us and the future is looking bright,” Turner said. “The biggest key to our offense is (we have) the ability to give anybody the ball, and they will give you positive yards. There isn’t a weak spot on the offense.”
Carmel QB Mike Huiras and sophomore fullback Rondell Jameson have had breakout seasons in the Corsairs’ option-based offense, too.
“We feel like if we score four touchdowns a game, we’ll win every time,” Bitto added. “Hopefully, we get solid production on both sides of the ball this Friday and accomplish one of our main goals of becoming playoff eligible.”
If Carmel gets upset by Marian Central on Friday, it will have one more chance the following Friday, at home, against Notre Dame.
That game could be tense as well because the Dons will come into that contest 4-4 and needing a win of their own to make the playoffs.