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O’Brien: Glenbard West-Mount Carmel showdown long overdue

Mount Carmel’s first football season was in 1924. The Caravan has won 723 games and 12 state titles. Glenbard West, back then just Glenbard, started playing football in 1923. The Hilltoppers, who somewhere along the way started calling themselves The Hitters, have won 507 games and two state titles.

High school football scheduling is wacky and senseless, so the two powerhouse programs have never played each other before. That changes Saturday afternoon at 1. The game will be at Glenbard West’s Duchon Field, which is natural grass. Some football fans revere Duchon as a beautiful throwback stadium situated next to a small man-made lake. It was ranked as the No. 10 “Great place to watch a high school football game” by USA Today in 2001. Others consider it a total mess. The field sits in a flood plain so it attracts plenty of water. It’s also far from a level surface. Certain sections are slightly uphill, some downhill. The Hilltoppers played their first round playoff game at Glenbard South because of the rain last Saturday.

There were some questions about Mount Carmel (8-2) after lopsided losses to Loyola and Brother Rice. But the Caravan came to life in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs, pounding a good Glenbard North team 42-15. Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti never seemed overly concerned about his team.

“We just need to get healthy and find someone that can tackle on the kickoff team,” Lenti said after the loss to the Ramblers, in which Loyola senior Jonah Issac returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

Glenbard West (10-0) has had a spotless season, and the Hilltoppers always seem to find some extra magic when they play at Duchon, so this clash of titans should live up to its billing.

Here’s a look at some of this weekend’s other compelling playoff storylines:

Future star watch: South Elgin (9-1) at Brother Rice (9-1), noon Saturday

Crusaders’ wide receiver Ricky Smalling is electric. The junior seems to catch everything thrown in his direction and then is able to stiff arm and break tackles like no other receiver in the area. Smalling caught three touchdown passes in Brother Rice’s 49-21 win over Bartlett in the first round. He has 13 so far this season. The Crusaders are a bit under-appreciated overall with big wins over Mount Carmel and Crete-Monee. And remember their only loss is to unbeaten Loyola.

CPS title hopes: Batavia (9-1) vs. Simeon (8-2) at Gately, 7 p.m. Friday; Phillips (10-0) at Johnsburg, 1 p.m. Saturday

The Wolverines have a massive problem on their hands with Batavia. The Bulldogs have faced a rugged schedule this season and only lost to Naperville Central. They’ve won their last two games by a combined score of 107-14. Batavia won the Class 6A title in 2013.

Phillips should have an easier time of it. The Wildcats won 41-0 at Johnsburg in the second round last season. The loss of linebacker Amani Jones (knee injury) could be an issue though, he was dominant in that win last season, even scoring on an interception return.

Most interesting road trip: Raby (8-2) at Princeton (10-0), 7 p.m. Saturday

Raby will travel 118 miles southwest to take on the unbeaten Tigers, who have shut out four opponents this season. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Raiders, who graduated 17 players from last year’s team. Instead coach D’Angelo Dereef has molded his group, which includes seven freshmen in starting spots, in to one of the better teams in the Public League. Raby only lost to Phillips and King this season. Raiders running back Danquez Smith has had a sensational season and wide receiver Travis Powell is a likely Division I recruit. Raby’s 30-0 win over Clark last week was the school’s first ever playoff win.