When Moline football players learned they were playing Chicago Mount Carmel last Saturday, they seemed unfazed. They didn’t really realize what Mount Carmel’s tradition was.
You can bet they do now.
The Caravan, which has won 12 state titles, performed like a well-oiled machine Saturday, demolishing Moline 52-7 amid the cold and wind at Browning Field.
“It’s not about talent, it’s about team,” said legendary Caravan coach Frank Lenti, whose team came in with just a 6-3 record. “These kids came out with a purpose today. They really did. They’ve had three weeks in a row where we’ve played well in all three phases.
“We told them their destiny is in their own hands and each week is only going to get tougher and tougher. I think we kind of took Moline by surprise.”
The Maroons, winners of seven in a row coming in, bow out at 7-3, the same record that the Caravan advances with.
Moline coach Mike Morrissey didn’t totally agree with Lenti’s assessment.
“I don’t think it was a surprise to anybody,” Morrissey said. “They’re a good football team. We saw the competition that they played. We knew that they played a lot of good teams up there in the Catholic League. For us, it’s a really good example for our young kids to really realize the level of competition that’s out there and what we have to build as program to be competitive with.”
It’s hard to believe now, but Moline actually tied the score, 7-7, on a beautifully thrown long pass over the middle by Eric Maffie to Xavier Scritchfield that resulted in a 74-yard score on the Maroons’ first play from scrimmage.
Shortly after that the Caravan began to roll using some great play-action fakes by its quarterback, Radomir Premovic, deceptive speed and hard running by Kyle Davis, Aristotle Nakos and Premovic and outright speed by wide receiver Alek Thomas.
Premovic ran for two touchdowns, one a 54-yarder, and threw two touchdown passes to Thomas, whose last score was on a 10-yard toss over the middle where he sped by the Maroons while cutting across the field for 27 yards. He also made a leaping catch in the end zone for the Caravan’s first score. But the igniter was definitely Premovic.
“Rad does a great job reading the option,” Lenti said. “And then the play-action pass, he gets the ball to the open receiver. It’s tough to cover all those things.”
And as the game wore on, the Caravan flashed more speed.
“I think we are a lot quicker than people give us credit for,” Lenti said.
The Caravan appeared a bit bigger than the Maroons up front, which had to play a role in Mount Carmel’s 263 rushing yards, compared to Moline’s 9 on 27 carries. Even with a high snap on a late punt costing Moline a minus-20, the Maroons still would have been held below 30 yards rushing.
“I thought we came out with some excitement and a lot of energy, and once that wore off a little bit, it made it tough,” Morrissey said. “And they were really good up front, too. I think their defensive line was the difference. They’re aggressive up front. They really have some size, and that made it tough.”
Morrissey gave an emotional, positive talk to his team afterward and exchanged many a thank you and hugs with players, who had seen their season start 0-2 but ended up capturing a Western Big Six title along the way, as well as a seven-game win streak.
“This is a special group of guys,” he said. “Those seniors, the hours upon hours that you spend with these guys is something you invest in because you care about them. That’s something I think our kids understand now, and they appreciate a little bit more as well.
“It hurts a little bit because you care so much. And that’s what it’s supposed to be like.”