Mount Carmel’s Butkus steps up, delivers

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Would he or wouldn’t he play?

The “he” being Mount Carmel quarterback Don Butkus.

The senior quarterback was a question mark for Saturday’s Class 8A state championship game against Glenbard North.

Butkus’s status was the talk of high school football blagosphere all week.

The two-year starter sustained an ankle injury during the Caravan’s 26-21 Class 8A semifinal victory over Neuqua Valley, requiring assistance leaving the field.

Caravan coach Frank Lenti wasn’t talking, preferring to let the drama play out until game time.

Smart man.

Coach Frank played it close to the vest, like any intelligent coach should and would.

Why not?

Just another item for Glenbard North coaching staff to think about and game plan for.

Though the Caravan offense doesn’t rely on Butkus’s arm or legs to carry the load, its option attack demands his decision making skills.

You know, when to hand the ball off, when to keep it, when to pitch it, when and where to throw it.

He executed it with RG3 precision Saturday.

Similar to a poker player knowing exactly when to hold’em or to fold’em, when to bluff or go all in.

The Caravan relying on a raw backup, no matter how athletic and physically gifted, in a championship setting would be akin to leading a lamb to the slaughter house.

For Mount Carmel’s offense to reach its full potential on an unseasonably cold and pressure-filled night, Donnie Football would have to not only suit up, but play.

A decoy on the sideline would not suffice.

Which is why I swear I heard a sigh of relief from Mount Carmel fans, seated on the west side of Memorial Stadium, when Butkus actually took the field with the offense.

Though Butkus probably wished he hadn’t been when he fired an errant pass that resulted in a pick-six and allowed Glenbard North to gain a short-lived 7-0 lead.

But with the game tied 7-7, it was none other than, guess who?, darting 34 yards to pay dirt late in the first half for a 14-7 lead, Mount Carmel’s first of the night.

It was an advantage the Caravan would never relinquish.

Butkus added a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jason Gasser as Mount Carmel went on to post a 28-14 win and state championship No. 11.

“We really didn’t know,” said Lenti of Butkus’s status for the game. “He practiced in pads once all week, on Thursday. But he wanted to play.”

Of course he did. His last name is Butkus, not Bambi.

The numbers aren’t gushing: 50 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown; 2-of-5 passing for 34 yards and another score.

But he was a general out there, keenly distributing the rock to his soldiers. Draco Smith rushed for 129 yards and two TDs, while Matt Domer posted 79 yards.

While the rest of Caravan Nation was chewing its finger nails to the nub, Butkus said there was nothing to fear.

“There was no question,” said Butkus of if he was playing. “It was hurting, but we took care of it everyday. We iced it and taped it up.”

Mount Carmel’s training staff, led by Doug Awe, deserve props for nursing Butkus to health.

“The training staff did a tremendous job getting Don ready,” Lenti said. “This is not happening without them.”

For Lenti, now 326-59 in 29 years, it was the program’s first state championship since 2002 and the first since the IHSA controversial multiplier was put in place.

Though, the Caravan finished second in 2005, 2006 and 2010.

“We’ve been down here three times a handful of years we just didn’t get it done,” Lenti said. “We told these guys don’t be awed by the crowd or the stadium. Keep it basic. This group was about the ‘we,’ not the me.”

None more than Don Butkus.

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