By Steve Metsch
Mount Carmel head coach Jordan Lynch noted “defense wins championships” after the Caravan prevention corps shut down the high-powered Nazareth offense in the Class 7A state title game.
Boy, does it ever.
The Mount Carmel ‘D’ dominated a prolific Roadrunners offense that came in averaging 44 points per game in the playoffs.
The Caravan held defending Class 7A champs to 137 yards of offense in a 37-13 victory to claim the 2019 state championship at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium on a cold, wet and windy night.
Mount Carmel quarterback Justin Lynch scored five touchdowns as the Caravan controlled the clock with a running game that rolled up 316 yards.
It was the aforementioned defensive effort, however, that was arguably the most impressive aspect of the title-winning performance. The Caravan sacked Nazareth quarterback J.J. McCarthy five times and played a big part in him completing 8 of 25 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown.
“You saw our defense out there,” Jordan Lynch said, praising the plan of Caravan defensive coordinator David Lenti. “Our defense flew around and looked like it caused a lot of confusion on the offensive side of the ball.”
Nazareth (13-1) had won 20 straight games, dating back to Week 7 of the 2018 season. The Caravan (14-0) won their 13th state championship and the first under Lynch, who is in his second year leading the program at which he starred.
A team that consistently hit the big play all season, the Roadrunners’ only notable big gain was a 62-yard pass play. The rushed for just 21 yards on 22 attempts.
Nazareth junior quarterback J.J. McCarthy was frequently under duress, and ran the ball 10 times. It’s going to be a long night when your star quarterback – the one who has committed to Michigan and threw 33 touchdown passes entering the state title tilt – leads the team in rushes.
“They had a great defensive scheme, some nice blitzes I thought J.J. did a heck of a job avoiding early,” Nazareth head coach Tim Racki said. “They kept us out of rhythm.”
Despite the Caravan dominating defensively, the game was close through three quarters. A key play came in the third quarter with Mount Carmel leading 20-13.
Nazareth had just forced the Caravan to punt, but on the first play of the ensuing possession, McCarthy was sacked at his own 1 yard line. On the next play he scrambled left, was hit and fumbled; and Mount Carmel recovered at the 12.
“That was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my life,” said Austin Maciel-Haygood, who fell on the ball. “I wanted to score but I didn’t want to give the ball up.”
Julian Patino’s 22-yard field goal made it 23-13 with 1:57 left in the third quarter.
Lynch, who had scored on runs of one, 13 and one yard in the first half, added two more short scoring runs in the fourth quarter to ice the win.
The Nazareth defense had a few big moments. Freshman Kaleb Miller had a 65-yard pick-six to open the scoring. But the Roadrunners had no answer for Mount Carmel’s running game.
Kenanna Odeluga carried 29 times for 184 yards, while Lynch ran 26 times for 124.
“We pride ourselves on running the football. When you have [Odeluga] and [Lynch] running the football, no matter how many guys you put in the box or what you try to do, you still have to stop them,” Jordan Lynch said.
“It’s pretty easy when you have this one upfront blocking for me,” Justin Lynch said of his five touchdowns.
“This one” would be Jalen Grant, a 275-pound senior lineman.
“We were just going to out-physical these guys from the point of attack from everywhere on the field,” Grant said. “We just flew around and had some fun.”
The Caravan defensive line did the same on the other side of the ball.
“We were going to disrupt routes because earlier games we watched they were able to run free,” said defensive end Marty O’Brien. “We wanted to disrupt their timing.”
They did. Roadrunners’ star sophomore receiver Tyler Morris, who came into the game with 17 touchdown receptions, had three catches for 24 yards Saturday.
“They played me one low, one high,” Morris said. “With the pressure they were bringing, it was hard for J.J. to keep his eyes downfield to try and find me.”
McCarthy’s lone touchdown pass came on a screen that Derrick Strongs Jr. took 62 yards to the house in the second quarter, making it 14-13 Mount Carmel.
Caravan receiver Tony Livermore said the team’s secret weapon was Coach Lynch playing the McCarthy role in practice last week.
“We had a Heisman finalist practicing against our defense,” Livermore said.
Lynch, who starred at Northern Illinois, had also reminded Justin – his brother – he ran for 320 yards the last time he played at Huskie Stadium.”
“That’s a great coaching move,” Racki said of Lynch playing the role of McCarthy. “Mount Carmel had an excellent game plan in all phases.”
McCarthy said the loss will inspire the team in 2020.
“The feeling I’m feeling right now is something I’ll never feel again,” he said. “It’s going to very scary next year. There’s going to be something about this team next year that no one’s ever seen.”