There are high school football hotbeds all over the area, schools and communities that gather to socialize and celebrate before and after games.
Mount Carmel’s new on-campus stadium doesn’t have a reputation like Glen Ellyn or some other places, but it is only a matter of time until the Caravan’s home-field advantage is appreciated throughout the state.
It’s a truly special gameday experience. The walkway around the convocation center to the field is full of vendors hawking food and merchandise and lined with tributes to the 13 state championship teams.
The stadium itself is a hornet’s nest. Fans are closer to the field than anywhere else in the area.
That’s the scene No. 6 St. Rita walked into on Friday. And the Mustangs were starting a rookie quarterback.
The top-ranked Caravan dominated, winning 35-3.
“Ever since we started watching film on them we knew we were the better team,” senior linebacker Danny Novickas said. “It just depended on if we came out strong or not. I might sound a little bit cocky but we know ourselves better than anyone.”
Junior Jett Hilding, the Mustangs’ quarterback, was 1-for-4 passing for one yard.
“We [wanted ] to let him know what he was getting himself into,” Novickas said. “Mount Carmel defense doesn’t get better than that.”
St. Rita (0-1) is expected to have a strong running game this season, but without an aerial threat, the large and quick Caravan defense was able to contain juniors Ethan Middleton and DJ Stewart (eight carries, 31 yards).
It was a statement, breakout game for Mount Carmel quarterback Blainey Dowling. He’s always been a dependable leader and solid player, but the senior is now a star.
Dowling was 19-for-21 passing for 318 yards and five touchdowns. He connected with seven different receivers.
The biggest strikes were a 54-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Furlong and a 48-yard touchdown pass to Darrion Gilliam.
Gilliam, an unknown heading into the game, was an eye-opening talent. The junior receiver is 6-5.
Furlong had three receptions for 92 yards and Damarion Arrington had four catches for 76 yards.
“[St. Rita] was leaning heavily on the run, which opened up the passing game,” Dowling said. “You have to give the ball to your athletes to make plays.”
Junior Darrion Dupree had six carries for 34 yards and caught four passes for 36 yards. Marist transfer Alonzo Manning made an immediate impact for the Caravan with 12 carries for 75 yards.
“This is one of the most packed games I’ve played in,” Dowling said. “It was fun being out there. The crowd was awesome and we played good as a team.”
It was the 100th meeting between the rival South Side Catholic schools. The loss will sting for St. Rita, but they recovered from an opening loss to the Caravan last season and made it to the state championship.
“It’s a learning experience,” Mustangs coach Todd Kuska said. “We knew these guys were really good. We knew it could go sideways on us. We showed some promise in the second half. We have to find our identity on offense. We’ll be alright. It’s Week 1. We’ve been down this road before.”
St. Rita scored on a stunning 51-yard field goal by Alabama recruit Conor Talty.