Mt. Carmel junior defensive back Eddie McGee had come close to knocking one down, but he never quite got there.
Doubling as a special-teams player, McGee just missed blocking several point-after attempts (PAT) this season. But when he finally got his hands on one, it was huge for the Caravan.
Blocking a Normal Community PAT in the third quarter, McGee’s special-team heroics proved to be the difference in Mt. Carmel’s 14-13 victory on Nov. 4 in Class 7A second-round action at Gately Stadium.
“It’s happened several times where I’ve come incredibly close,” McGee said. “My height [5’9”] or whatever, I don’t let it bother me. Their tight end moved in on the kick, so I cut my split down and dipped super hard. My speed let me get to the ball.”
With Normal looking to go ahead, the Caravan defense made two stands in the final five minutes. On a pass near midfield, the clock ran out on Normal getting off a play, which preserved the victory.
An 18-seed, Mt. Carmel (8-3) pulled off its second straight upset after taking down No.-15 Moline in the first round. Normal (10-1) was the No.-2 seed.
Taking advantage of field position at the 50-yard line to start a drive, the Ironmen marched down the field late in the third. Quarterback Daylen Boddie powered through the defense for a 14-yard score.
On the PAT, McGee made a quick break, diving all-out for the block.
“During individual work this week, we have these dummies on the sideline, and I’d set them up and work on my technique getting low and getting around,” McGee said. “It paid off in a big game when we needed it.”
The Caravan defense delivered against the high-flying Normal offense that had a previous season low of 43 points. The Ironmen scored 50 points or more 4 times this season.
Davion Brooks and Matt Lenti both had an interception for Mt. Carmel in the first half. Brooks’ pick helped set up a Radomir Premovic 5-yard keeper up the middle.
Aristotle Nakos (12 carries, 54 yards) put the Caravan up again in the second quarter with a 2-yard run up the middle. Lenti’s interception in the end zone ended the first half as Normal came up empty on a last-second play from the 7-yard line.
“Our defense really picked it up today on a day where our offense was struggling,” said Mt. Carmel Coach Frank Lenti. “We turned their turnover into a touchdown. That was the biggest difference. We had zero turnovers, and they had 2.”
Nakos’ touchdown run was set up by a beautiful Mt. Carmel pass play, with Premovic finding Alek Thomas downfield behind the defense for a 55-yard strike. Nakos powered in for the score on the next play.
The Mt. Carmel option is obviously run-heavy, but Premovic said he savors the opportunities to let it fly.
“It was a huge play. With Alek’s speed, it’s pretty fun to watch him run around like that,” Premovic said. “It’s probably a big surprise for the defense when we throw. It was pretty exciting, especially on a third down to show what we can do.”
Mt. Carmel gained 164 yards of offense while Normal piled up 281 overall, including Boddie running 21 times for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns.
McGee said he and his defensive teammates knew they just needed to slow the Ironmen down.
“We knew they had a fast, physical offense,” McGee said. “We watched so much film, so we knew what to do to stop their run game and the passing, too. The blocked kick, it just fired everyone up.”
The Caravan will play in the quarterfinals against East St. Louis at Gately Stadium on Nov. 11 at 5 p.m.