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Carmel keeps Notre Dame out of playoffs with second-half surge

MUNDELEIN — Carmel’s football team is headed to the postseason for the first time since 2011, and it’s on a bit of a roll following a 31-17 East Suburban Catholic win over Notre Dame on Friday night.

The Corsairs (6-3, 5-2), who have beaten the Dons in 17 consecutive matchups, wasted no time getting their powerful rushing attack going. Carmel ran the ball 45 times for 301 yards and scored on its first two possessions.

“One of the things I like most about this specific group of players is they seem to be getting better every week,” Carmel coach Andy Bitto said. “That’s a good sign. I’m not saying we have the best football team in the world, but I feel like this is a team that has the potential to make some noise in the postseason, based on things I’ve seen and how hard they’ve worked to get to this point.”

Both teams had 113 yards on the ground in the first half, as the scrappy Dons matched Carmel’s intensity on both sides of the ball. The Corsairs took a 14-10 lead into the locker room at intermission, but when play resumed, it was a slightly different story.

Sophomore Rondel Jamison (25 carries, 154 yards) scored two of his three rushing touchdowns in the third quarter to extend Carmel’s lead, while senior quarterback Michael Huiras (14 carries, 102 yards, TD) also eclipsed the century mark.

Jamison says he’s received letters of interest and questionnaires from Division I schools Michigan St., Nebraska, Duke, Louisville and Northwestern. Counting Friday’s performance, he’s scored 17 TDs (15 rushing, two receiving) in nine games.

“I just try to keep my feet moving and stay low,” Jamison said. “I’m not too shifty, but I have moments where I can be. I try to use my power and my speed to hit the holes the offensive linemen give me as quick as possible.”

“I’m really proud of my teammates,” Carmel guard Patrick Lyman added. “In the third quarter, we played as a unit, kind of like a machine. Everyone was doing their jobs. That team unity is probably our biggest strength. If everyone wasn’t on the same page, there’s no way we’d be standing here right now headed to the playoffs.”

Others have benefitted from Jamison’s success, and the success of Carmel’s offensive line and triple-option attack, too.

“Notre Dame was forced to key on Rondel — and rightfully so,” Bitto said. “But when teams are forced to stack so many guys in the box and attack Rondel at the line of scrimmage, it just opens things up that much more for Mike Huiras and the rest of our guys.”

Defensively, the Corsairs improved as the game went on. They held Notre Dame (4-5, 3-4) to just 36 second-half rushing yards, and the only score they allowed came on a 27-yard halfback pass for a TD, which required a great leaping catch from Dons senior wide receiver Bill Byrne.

Carmel has scored 20 or more points in every game, but an even better sign may be that it averaged right around 30 a game in ESCC play. The Corsairs now have a two-game winning streak at just the right time.

“The sky is the limit for us,” Huiras said. “As long as we don’t look ahead too far and don’t take any opponent for granted, we can do great things in the postseason.”

Meanwhile, on the Dons’ sideline, tears flowed and countless hugs and handshakes were exchanged as Notre Dame’s season came to an end.

“We didn’t give in, and the toughness and character our players showed these last few weeks truly exemplified what Notre Dame football is all about,” Dons coach Mike Hennessey said. “But this stings. We’d been in the playoffs eight straight seasons prior to this one, so being in this position isn’t something we’re too accustomed to.”