There were fans. A few thousand raucous Catholic League football fans packed St. Rita’s stadium.
There were student sections. Mount Carmel and St. Rita kids let each other have it for three hours with some too personal chants at the opposing players and some naughty words.
And of course there were big plays. Blocked field goals and touchdown passes and breakout runs.
And there was an upset. Mount Carmel senior JT Harris blocked a potential game-winning field goal attempt and junior Jaden Bossie scooped it up and ran 83 yards for a touchdown in the final minute to give the No. 11 Caravan a 16-9 win over top-ranked St. Rita.
After a sad, brutal year of empty stadiums and limited games and no playoffs, real high school football is back.
It was a major statement win for Mount Carmel, which had 18 new starters.
It appeared that veteran quarterback Tommy Ulatowski had done the job, driving St. Rita all the way down to the Caravan’s 5 with 49 seconds to play and the game tied at 9. The Mustangs set up for a field goal and appeared set to win the game. Then Harris and Bossie made them pay.
“I knew I had to make a play,” Harris said. “My hamstring is kind of messed up so I had to sell out. I didn’t know if I was gonna get injured or not. I just went all in.”
Harris was on the ground and only saw the end of Bossie’s 83-yard scamper with all of St. Rita chasing him.
“This is everything,” Bossie said. “We had so many doubters coming in and we had to prove ourselves.”
Junior Blainey Dowling started the game at quarterback for Mount Carmel (1-0) and was 8 for 13 for 48 yards with one interception. Fellow junior Damarion Arrington took several snaps out of the Wildcat in the first half and then threw the ball a few times in the second half. He had 13 carries for 63 yards.
“We saw [St. Rita] in the newspaper all week and knew we had to come out and show them who we are,” Arrington said. “They can’t talk down to us now.”
It wasn’t all big moments and heroics. St. Rita star Kaleb Brown, the area’s best player, was injured in the first quarter and never returned. The Ohio State recruit went up high to catch a pass near the sideline and was hit in the legs.
“We will get him checked out and everything,” Mustangs coach Todd Kuska said. “Good thing it is Week 1. It’s not the end of the world, not a broken leg or anything.
“Anytime you lose a guy like that it sends little shockwaves through the team. We built back in the second half. And then we just failed to execute.”
Mount Carmel scored first, on a 13-yard run by Dowling in the second quarter. Then the Caravan, pinned back at their own 2, snapped the ball out of bounds on a punt to take a safety.
Those were the only points for St. Rita (0-1) until Ulatowski connected with BJ Hall on a 20-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 9 with 6:49 to play.
Ulatowski finished 9-of-24 for 80 yards with one interception.
“We played poorly, then we played well,”Kuska said. “We made mistakes and then made up for them. It was a physical game for both teams. They did one more good thing than us at the end. That’s what happens.”
Mount Carmel coach Jordan Lynch was impressed with his young team.
“One of the things about young teams is they don’t know any better,” Lynch said. “They don’t Carmel vs. Rita. They don’t know bright lights, six to eight thousand. I didn’t bring it up all week. They came and played. Obviously we still have to grow up a little bit but I thought we grew up a bit tonight.”
Watch the blocked field goal and game-winning touchdown: