photo by Jeff Vorva
Marist senior defensive lineman John Carmody was honest.
The kid is a part of the Class of 2016, which had a losing record as freshman, a losing record as sophomores and last year’s 4-5 mark on the varsity.
The seniors also experienced a season in which they were 5-4 and lost their last two regular season games to Nazareth and Joliet Catholic. Out of 526 teams to ever play in a state title game, only four had four losses.
Other Redhawks players and coaches were saying they believed in themselves and were not surprised they got this far. But Carmody stood on a frozen Marist field after his team qualified for the Class 8A state title game with a 31-16 victory over Waubonsie Valley with a big smile and when he was asked if he thought he would ever see this day, he was frank.
“No, never!” Carmody said. “I never even imagined it. It’s unbelievable when you think about it.”
It’s believable and a reality and now the task at hand is to try to beat unbeaten Loyola in the state title game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
It’s just the second time the Redhawks (9-4) have made it to the state championship game and both came under coach Pat Dunne’s watch. In 2009, Maine South ended the RedHawks run with a 41-17 win in Champaign. That team was a bit of a surprise to make it that far but the 2015 squad is even more unlikely as it pulled it off from the 23rd seed out of 32 teams.
“Nothing is a surprise about this team,” Dunne said. “They have believed and I’m telling you, their attitude has never ever changed. They believe in each other. They are such a great family together and without a doubt, I believe in these guys more than anyone.’’
To get to Saturday’s semifinal, the RedHawks had nailbiting three-point wins over Niles Notre Dame (17-14), Barrington (59-56 in the highest scoring Class 8A playoff game in history) and Oswego, 38-35.
Waubonsie, seeded 30th and coming in with an 8-4 record, wasn’t an easy team but the RedHawks were able to have some breathing room most of the night.
Quarterback Brendan Skalitzky continued his statistical assault with 103 yards and two touchdowns in the air and 186 yards on the ground including a 71-yard scoring dash that gave the RedHawks a 24-9 lead. He now has more than 3,500 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.
The Warriors tightened things up in the fourth quarter and Marist nursed a 24-16 lead when Carmody came up with a sack to stall a potential game-tying drive. Darshon McCullough’s 18-yard run iced the game on the icy night.
Receiver Liam Keffer caught two touchdown passes including the first score of the night where he caught the ball at the right side of the end zone with his feet dangerously close to the out-of-bounds line. Waubonsie players signaled he was out of bounds but the only arms that mattered – the referee’s – signaled a touchdown.
After the game, the players met with fans in the stands and jumped into a snowbank past the north end zone courtesy of an afternoon storm that dumped 11 inches of snow in some suburbs.
“You always dream of playing in the snow,” Carmody said.
“The weather wasn’t an issue, we know we can score points,” Skalitzky said. “If everyone does their job, we can score on anybody. It might have been pretty rough to play in the afternoon (during the blizzard). I was watching some of those games.
“But I would have played in whatever conditions there were.’’