Carmel’s matchup with St. Viator ‘a crucial game’ by all accounts

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There are defining moments in every season, and Carmel is just a day away from one of them.

At 7:30 Friday night, the Corsairs will take the field at home against longtime East Suburban Catholic rival St. Viator in what is likely the fulcrum of the Corsairs’ season.

Carmel is 1-2 so far and needs to go 4-2 the rest of the way to make the playoffs. Last year, in this exact same spot on the schedule, Carmel lost 28-25 to St. Viator in a game the Corsairs led with two minutes to play. The loss proved to be critical, as ensuing losses to an eight-win Marist team and Joliet Catholic eventually ended the Corsairs’ run of 12 straight playoff appearances. With no IHSA playoffs to play for, the Corsairs dropped a sixth game to St. Pat’s in Week 8.

Friday night is the second chance, and the Corsairs are very aware of what a win will do for the team, and are not even contemplating the alternative.

“We have to get to .500 this week. It’s a crucial game,” said senior linebacker R.C. Cox.

Carmel has not missed the playoffs two years in a row since head coach Andy Bitto’s first two seasons (1998 and 1999).

Carmel senior quarterback Nick Grandolfo also knows this game is huge. “Especially after the game last year and how close it was, that proved to be a really big game,” he said. “It’s already big because we got off to an 0-2 start and because of the rivalry, but knowing that we need this win heading into the rest of the conference season makes it even bigger. Hopefully, being at home will give us a little advantage, but we’ll see.”

The good news for the Corsairs is that after losing to state powers Lincoln-Way East and Glenbard North, they played like champions in a blowout win over a good Marian Catholic team in which the offense played to its capabilities.

“In an option offense, midseason is when you start to hit your stride,” said Carmel coach Andy Bitto. “We have two sophomores starting. We had three sophomores starting at the beginning of the year against two great teams. We also have a few juniors, so we’ve had quite a young group playing.”

Sophomores who started included running back Darrius Crump, tight end Noah Turner and offensive tackle Sean Foster (6-7, 255, injured after starting the first two games).

“I think we’re more consistent on offense than we were at this point last year, and we’re getting healthier,” Bitto said. “This is the second year we’ve been running this defense. We’re more confident in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. It really comes down to execution. If we play like we did last year, they’ll have a chance to beat us, and if we play like we did last week, we’ll be in better shape. Our preparation doesn’t really change that much.”

That said, this is a pivotal moment in Carmel’s season. On that, all can agree.

“If we want to make the playoffs we have to go 5-2 in conference play,” the coach said. “This is a game that could go either way, so it’s a game we feel is essential for our playoff run. I know it’s early in the season, but we have to execute.

“In our league, you have to play great every week to win. St. Viator doesn’t have a great player like [Glenbard North running back Justin] Jackson, but they have a number of very good players.”

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