EDWARDSVILLE — Mount Carmel went back to the basics.
Now the defending Class 8A champion Caravan are back in the state title game.
Matt Domer scored three touchdowns, including a 49-yard burst on Mount Carmel’s first play from scrimmage, as the Caravan ran over Edwardsville to a 34-7 victory in a Class 7A semifinal Saturday afternoon.
Mount Carmel (12-1), which attempted its only pass of the game on a two-point conversion, advanced to a state title game for a record tying 17th time. It will face Lake Zurich at 4 p.m. next Saturday for the Class 7A championship at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
“We didn’t do anything different, we played our football,” Domer said. “The coaches got on us this week and we stepped it up in practice.
“It feels amazing. To go back-to-back is the goal.”
The Caravan weren’t happy with their offense following a 7-0 win over Downers Grove North in the quarterfinal.
“We told the kids that we had an off week last week,” Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti said. “We stepped it up. We weren’t the top seed and came down here as the underdog, so the whole thing was to start fast.”
Edwardsville (12-1) had an initial first down on the game’s opening drive, but was then forced to punt. The Caravan took over at the Tigers’ 49 and the offensive line of Luke Cipich, Steve Dumezich, Nate Oquendo, Kyle Thomas and Jack White opened a huge hole that allowed Domer to race untouched into the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 9:09 left in the first quarter.
“Our job is to make an alley and have the guys go right through it,” said Cipich, who is the center. “Working on the offense was completely our focus this week. We jumped on them early and kept the pedal down.
“This will be my first time at state and it feels awesome.”
Domer, a senior running back who finished with 22 carries for 176 yards, appreciated the job of the line.
“I just give credit to my line and my coaches,” Domer said. “That (first touchdown) was definitely a momentum changer.”
Deontae Brown intercepted a Dan Marinko pass on the next Tiger possession and returned it 26 yards. A penalty on the interception pushed the Caravan back to the Edwardsville 21. Four plays later Jimmy Mickens (16 carries, 67 yards) scored from nine yards out and the Caravan led 13-0 midway through the opening quarter.
Following a short punt, against the wind, the Caravan traveled 38 yards in nine plays. Domer capped off the drive with an 11-yard TD run and a 2-point conversion made the score 21-0 with 16.7 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Tigers threatened to score late in the second quarter, but Brown recovered a fumble at his own one to thwart the drive.
“I just saw one of my teammates knock the ball loose,” Brown said. “It was a real big play and I wanted to make it for my team.”
Marinko (14 of 36, 140 yards) had a one-yard TD pass to Darius Crochrell with 1:33 to play in the third period to cut the lead to 21-7. The Tigers defense then forced a fumble at the Mount Carmel 41 and reached the Caravan 24. But Marinko was sacked by Nick Johnson and Kevin Thurmon for a 13-yard loss and turned the ball over on downs.
Domer scored from four yards out and Jaquan Buntyn plowed in from a yard out to cap the scoring in the fourth quarter.
Howard Griffith II added an interception in the fourth quarter and Steve Richardson and Enoch Smith, Jr. were huge all day for the Caravan defense. Edwardsville, which entered the game with 501 points scored, was held to 18 yards rushing and 158 yards total.
“It feels great,” Brown said of getting to the state title game again. “It feels even better this year because I’ve got a chance for two.”