There are high school football hostels all over the region, schools and communities coming together to socialize and celebrate before and after games.
The new stadium on the Mount Carmel campus doesn’t have the same reputation as Glen Ellyn or other locations, but it’s only a matter of time before the Caravan’s home-field advantage is appreciated in the whole state.
It’s a truly special gaming experience. The walkway around the convocation center to the field is full of vendors peddling food and merchandise and lined with tributes to the 13 state championship teams.
The stadium itself is a wasps’ nest. Fans are closer to the pitch than anywhere else in the region.
This is the scene St. Rita entered on Friday. And the Mustangs were starting a rookie quarterback.
The top-ranked caravan dominated, winning 35-3.
“Ever since we started watching movies about them, we knew we were the best team,” senior linebacker Danny Novickas said. “It just depended on whether we came out strong or not. I may sound a little arrogant, but we know each other better than anyone.
Mustangs quarterback Junior Jett Hilding went 1-of-4 for a yard.
“We [wanted ] to let him know what he was getting into,” Novickas said. “Mount Carmel’s defense doesn’t get any better than this.”
St. Rita (0-1) should have a good running game this season, but with no aerial threat, the wide and fast 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 was always a reliable leader and a solid player, but the senior is now a star.
Dowling was 19 of 21 passes for 318 yards and five touchdowns. It 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 headed into the game, was a telling talent. The junior receiver is 6-5.
Furlong had three receptions for 92 yards and Damarion Arrington caught four passes for 76 yards.
“[St. Rita] relied heavily on running, 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.
“It’s one of the busiest games I’ve played,” Dowling said. “It was fun being there. The crowd was great and we played well as a team.
It was the 100th meeting between the rival Catholic schools on the South Side. The loss will sting for St. Rita, but they recovered from an opener 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 this could upset us. We showed promise in the second half. We have to find our identity in attack. Everything will be fine for us. This is week 1. We’ve been down this path before.
St. Rita scored on a superb 51-yard field goal by Alabama rookie Conor Talty.