Marquee Focus: Class 7A Semifinal Mount Carmel at St. Rita
Marquee Sports Network will kick off its live game coverage of Illinois High School Association football this Saturday as Mount Carmel will travel to St. Rita to take on the Mustangs in a Class 7A state semifinal showdown.
These two longtime Chicago Catholic League rivals will square off for the 101st meeting in one of the longest running rivalry games in the State of Illinois. The winner on Saturday will advance to the IHSA Class 7A state championship game next Saturday at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois.
When: Saturday, November 19th 2022 4PM CST Kickoff
Where: St. Rita of Cascia 7740 S Western Avenue Chicago IL 60620
TV: Live on Marquee Sports Network (Alex Cohen is doing play-by-play with longtime IHSA Broadcaster Jack McInerney as game analyst and Chicago-area broadcaster Kacy Standohar as field reporter.)
When Mount Carmel has the Football
Mount Carmel head coach Jordan Lynch was a standout quarterback at Mount Carmel and then became a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback while playing his college football at Northern Illinois University. He has transformed the Caravan offense from a strictly power option team of the recent past to a much more passing-friendly spread look, yet still keeping elements of the option attack to great success.
Senior QB Blainey Dowling has been on a Player of the Year run this season and his overall development and improvement from a season ago has been impressive. The Caravan offense also has a deep group of skills and keep an eye on senior RB Alonzo Manning Jr. along with senior WR Denny Furlong, WR Darrion Gilliam and WR Jimmy Deacy. The Caravan offensive line is always a strength and while senior OL/DL Asher Tomaszewski is questionable for Saturday dealing with an earlier season injury, senior Samuel Singleton is a multi-year starter and leader who has kept the line play clicking in the postseason.
Look for the Caravan to get out of the gates quickly as they have all season long. In the Week 1 35-3 win over St. Rita the Caravan was down 3-0 early to the Mustangs before the offense fired off 28 second quarter points and never looked back. Yes, the Mount Carmel offense has serious big play potential.
The Mount Carmel defense has been as impressive as the offense this season, allowing just 21 points so far in the postseason and just 106 points overall this fall. The linebacker position for the Caravan is loaded with talent and will be asked to again play big on Saturday. Senior OLB Danny Novikas, senior ILB Nickolas Naujokas, junior ILB Parker Startz and senior OLB Damarion Arrington all have a great mix of speed and strength and played a huge role in the Week 1 35-3 win.
The Swiss Army Knife for the Caravan
Take your pick between senior WR/OLB Arrington or senior RB/DB Jaden Bossie. Arrington can and will play any number of positions at a moment’s notice and caught two touchdown passes at receiver in the Week 1 win over St. Rita along with playing at a very high level on defense. Bossie is the ultimate multi-positional talent who can and will find him playing running back, receiver and defensive back and on special teams.
Issues/Concerns for the Caravan
Injuries have played a role this postseason for the Caravan. Standout Rivals.com 4-star ranked RB Darrion Dupree is expected to miss the remainder of the season while senior Tomaszewski is questionable for Saturday. Tomaszewski was one of the few two-way starters for the Caravan this season. Also it seems that the Caravan have been slowed at times this postseason by penalties, a trend that the Caravan have been able to overcome and a trend that the Caravan now needs to stop starting Saturday at St. Rita.
Mount Carmel Recruits to Watch
QB Blainey Dowling (various FCS/D2 interest), RB Darrion Dupree (Illinois/Iowa/Kansas State/Missouri/Rutgers/Syracuse/Nebraska offers), OL/DL Asher Tomaszewski (commit Kansas State), DE/OLB Danny Novickas (commit Ohio U), ILB Nickolas Naujokas (commit WIU), ILB Parker Startz (Akron/BGSU/Ohio/WMU offers)
When St. Rita has the Football
St. Rita and veteran head coach Todd Kuska didn’t exactly set the IHSA football world on fire starting off this season with a 1-2 record including losses to Mount Carmel and Loyola Academy. However, the Mustangs bought into the team’s motto for this season “Win the Week” and have proceeded to win 9 straight games into the Class 7A semifinal round. Look for the Mustangs to establish its potent power running game led by a big and experienced offensive line and a play action passing game that has improved greatly in the postseason.
Junior QB Jett Hilding has improved each week and his game and confidence has never been higher in the playoffs, including posting some impressive numbers in wins against Prospect and St. Charles North. WR Calvin Lee has been a big target in the play action passing game. The St Rita running backs bring two different styles to the field and both have been highly effective this season. Junior RB Derrick DJ Stewart will remind you of a high school version of “The Bus” aka Hall of Fame Notre Dame and Pittsburgh RB Jerome Bettis. Stewart runs with both power and surprising speed and quickness to the outside while junior RB Ethan Middleton can also run inside or outside and has major game breaking ability. The offensive line is again an impressive combination of size, strength and experience and is led by senior OL Collin Gerger and senior OL Nick Strelzcyk.
Making It Last
St. Rita head coach Todd Kuska is in his 25th and last season as the Mustangs head coach after announcing at the beginning of the season that 2022 would be his final year as St. Rita varsity head coach. Kuska, whose son Joey is a senior starting wide receiver for the Mustangs, is planning to remain with the school in a different role next year. Kuska enters this game with an overall record of 208-92 in his 25 seasons as the Mustangs head coach.
Apart from the losses early in the season to Mount Carmel (35-3) and Loyola Academy (34-14), the St. Rita defense has been very strong all season long. The Mustangs defense is loaded with talent and play makers including Rivals.com 3-star ranked DE Patrick Farrell along with senior DL Eddie Vrdolyak, ILB Matt Kingsbury, his brother LB Joe Kingsbury plus S Johnny Schmitt. The Mustangs front seven has great size and length and will no question need to get pressure on the Mount Carmel offensive line on Saturday.
For decades under Kuska and his staff, St. Rita has always been able to develop top level kickers. Senior K/P Conor Talty is one of the top-ranked kickers/punters in the nation and is already verbally committed to Alabama. Talty might have been one of the only kickers in the entire state who had little if any issues with the high winds from the second round of state playoff games. One of the most common descriptions heard when fans see Conor Talty kick in person for the first time? “Wow..so that’s what an SEC kicker looks like.” Special teams have always been pretty special at St. Rita.
Issues/Concerns for the Mustangs
Can the Mustangs get the running game going right out of the gates and win time of possession? St. Rita in Week 1 led the Caravan 3-0 on a Talty 51-yard field goal then just never got in gear offensively. Can the Mustangs defensive back seven slow down the Mount Carmel passing game and limit its big play ability, which has been a big key all season long in the Caravan’s success?
Mustang Recruits to Watch
RB Ethan Middleton (Penn State offer plus Illinois/Iowa/Michigan/Missouri interest), RB Derrick DJ Stewart (Ball State/Illinois/Indiana/Cincinnati/Iowa interest), OL Collin Gerger (commit Fordham), OL Nick Strelczyk (New Hampshire/Missouri State/Lehigh), K/P Conor Talty (commit Alabama), DE Pat Farrell (commit Illinois), LB Matt Kingsbury (interest from Miami Ohio/Wisc/multiple FCS offers), S Johnny Schmitt (interest from Illinois/Kansas/Minnesota/Wisconsin)
EdgyTim’s Pick: I picked Mount Carmel to win 7A on Playoff Pairings night so I’ll stick with that choice here. Look for St. Rita to be ready for a four quarter battle, yet the Caravan gets a 28-24 win to advance to the 7A state title game.