Mount Carmel upsets Loyola, clinches 29th straight playoff berth

SHARE Mount Carmel upsets Loyola, clinches 29th straight playoff berth
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All those early mornings didn’t go to waste for Mount Carmel after all.

Playing an elimination game for the third straight week, the Caravan came within a couple minutes of becoming the first team to shut out Loyola in seven years Friday night at Gately Stadium.

The No. 5 Ramblers did get a late score, but Mount Carmel hung on for a 10-7 Catholic League Blue win that clinched the program’s 29th straight trip to the IHSA playoffs.

Anthony Ries ran 10 times for 91 yards and one touchdown, A.J. Lewis added 18 carries for 76 yards and Zach Mirabelli kicked what proved to be the decisive field goal for the Caravan (5-4, 1-3).

“You work so hard in the offseason, coming in in January at 5:30 in the morning [for] lifting,” Lewis said. “You know it’s all going to pay off.”

It may not have looked that way when the Caravan lost three of their first four games and four of their first six to put their postseason hopes in jeopardy. But some players got better and others took on new roles, and now Mount Carmel is back in the playoffs.

Junior free safety Foster Williams, who has been playing that position just a couple weeks, had three sacks and senior defensive tackle KevinThurmon had a 10-yard sack to help thwart a Loyola drive at the end of the first half.

“We kept our game plan pretty simple,” Caravan defensive coordinator Dave Lenti said. “We just wanted to take advantage of our speed. We just wanted to put our athletes in a good position to make plays.”

That’s what they did. Besides the sacks, the Caravan had two takeaways — Avery Saffold’s interception in the second quarter and Patrick O’Shea’s fumble recovery after a strip by Andrew Guerra in the third quarter — after getting just seven in their first eight games.

“They had a couple timely blitzes,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “[Williams] coming off the edge, with their speed — he hurt us a few times.”

So did quarterback Anthony Thompson, who kept making the right calls on Mount Carmel’s option with his pitches to Ries and Lewis. The senior also completed one big pass: a 39-yarder to a leaping Steven Wirtel on the left sideline that gave the Caravan a first-and-goal at the Loyola 1.

Ries scored on the next play for a 7-0 Caravan lead 1:29 before halftime.

“Anthony has come miles and miles,” Caravan coach Frank Lenti said. “He’s probably the guy on the team who’s made the most progress. Going into the season, he might have been our biggest question mark. Right now he’s one of the guys I’ve got the most confidence with.”

Mirabelli’s 33-yard field goal made it 10-0 with 3:30 left in the third quarter.

Loyola, which had 160 yards passing from Aidan Walsh and 76 rushing yards from Dara Laja, finally scored on Jack Loper’s two-yard touchdown run with 1:26 left in the game.

But Mount Carmel recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

“They dedicated their season to [assistant] coach Curt Ehrenstrom, who died of cancer,” Frank Lenti said. “I told them that’s not a very good decision [if] after all those years he was with us, we don’t make the state playoffs the year we dedicate to him. That’s not who we are.”

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