MUNDELEIN — Carmel’s football team is playoff eligible for the first time since 2011 thanks to a convincing 42-14 East Suburban Catholic win over Marian Central Friday night.
Moments after the victory, the entire Corsairs student section stormed the field from the north end zone and celebrated in raucous fashion with players.
The sense of relief was almost measurable, as countless shouts of the word “playoffs” echoed through the air — even when several minutes still remained in the game.
“This moment means so much to me, so much to my teammates and so much to our school,” Carmel senior quarterback Michael Huiras said. “I was a freshman the last time our varsity football team made the playoffs, so to be a part of turning things around is an incredible feeling.”
The Corsairs (5-3, 4-2) finished 2-7 in 2013 and 3-6 in 2012. Prior to that, Carmel made the postseason 12 straight years under current coach Andy Bitto. Though Friday’s win doesn’t mean a guaranteed playoff berth, Carmel’s rugged schedule almost ensures it will have enough playoff points to qualify, regardless of the outcome in its Week 9 finale against Notre Dame.
Offensively, Carmel sophomore Rondel Jamison stole the spotlight against the Hurricanes (4-4, 2-4). He carried the ball 24 times for 186 yards, including three touchdown runs (55, 7 and 33 yards).
“If Rondel isn’t all-conference, I’m not sure who is,” Bitto said. “He’s been incredible for us all season long. And all of that starts with our offensive line, which has been outstanding.”
“This just feels wonderful, I’m so happy to be part of this and happy for my teammates,” Jamison added.
The Corsairs came into Friday’s game averaging just over 28 points a game on offense in division play, and got help exceeding that mark from junior Zavier Barnes (two catches, 40 yards, TD). His 34-yard reception for a touchdown with a minute left in the first half gave Carmel a three-touchdown cushion.
“It makes [Carmel] much more difficult to stop now that they have so many different weapons on offense,” Marian Central coach Ed Brucker said. “We had a defensive gameplan that focused on each of their skilled backs, but it didn’t pan out the way we’d hoped.”
Ultimately, it was a key defensive play that turned the tide for good when Carmel led 28-14 late in the third quarter.
With momentum rapidly swinging in the Hurricanes’ favor, senior Joe Hoy picked off Hurricanes QB Kolton Rominski’s pass at the Marian Central 38-yard line, then returned it to their 7-yard line to set up first and goal. On the next play, Jamison found the end zone.
Hoy also added a second interception with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and had a 10-yard second quarter TD run out of the backfield that give the Corsairs the lead for good.
“I play a free safety/linebacker hybrid called ‘Falcon,’ ” Hoy said. “I think on one of my interceptions, I was in man coverage, and on the other I was in zone coverage.”
“Joe’s position is similar to what the Chicago Bears had linebacker Brian Urlacher playing in some of their Tampa-2 defensive coverages,” Bitto said. “There’s a lot of area for him to cover on both runs and passes, and it’s a big responsibility. His first interception was a huge turning point.”
Despite the pair of interceptions, Rominski (23-for-49 passing, 234 yards) was poised while replacing the Hurricanes’ top QB, Billy Bahl, who was out due to a one-game suspension. Bahl is committed to Division I Miami (Ohio).
“The funny thing is, Kolton is actually our No. 3 QB, because our normal backup, JR Budmayr, broke his collarbone in a JV game a few weeks ago,” Brucker said. “He did a great job subbing for Billy. Now, we have to shift our focus toward beating St. Pat’s next week if we want to become playoff eligible like Carmel did tonight.”