The last high school football game as a player for Edwardsville High School coach Matt Martin, a tight end at Peoria Richwoods, was a gut-wrenching 7-6 playoff loss to Chicago Mount Carmel in the 1990 Class 5A semifinals.
Edwardsville (12-0) plays host to the 11-time state champion Caravan (11-1) in a 3 p.m. 7A semifinal on Saturday.
Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti's career record is 337-60 since he took over in 1984. One of those came against Martin and Richwoods and another came against Edwardsville in the 2005 semifinals.
"I just remember they were well-coached and they were physical," Martin said. "You can look at a lot of coaches around the state and Mount Carmel's left them in their wake at some point in time. They have a strong history, they've been doing it for years."
Ten of Mount Carmel's state championships, including the 8A title last season, came under Lenti. He has the second-highest win total in Illinois history and during a 7-0 quarterfinal win last week the Caravan limited Downers Grove North to one first down and 14 yards of total offense.
"I just like playing teams like that because we always feel like we're the underdog no matter what," Edwardsville linebacker Zac Rujawitz said. "We're coming in and we're going to prove we're a good team."
Mount Carmel has allowed only 89 points. In stark contrast, Edwardsville averages 41.7 points per game behind record-setting star quarterback Dan Marinko and star receiver Darius Crochrell.
Mount Carmel isn't fancy. The Caravan lines up and beat teams down with a physical style of play that can be both brutal and effective.
"They're single tight (end), double tight (end), smash mouth, three yards and a cloud of dust," Martin said. "If you don't tackle it's going to be a 60-yard trap play. If you don't stop the fullback, that's all you'll see -- and they've got two of them.
"If you don't stop the fullback it will be a nightmare."
Mount Carmel's top offensive threats are running backs Matt Domer (133 carries, 1,125 yards, 11 TDs) and Jimmy Mickens (163 carries, 1,039 yards, 12 TDs).
Domer, an Illinois recruit who missed time earlier this season with a knee injury, had 128 yards rushing last week and 259 yards and a TD against Chicago St. Rita.
Quarterback Marko Boricich was on Mount Carmel's state championship football and baseball teams last season, going 8-1 as a pitcher with a 1.38 ERA.
"Their offensive line is probably the best we've seen all year as far as just low pad level and relentless grinders," Martin said. "This team offensively will challenge you man-on-man that you have to get off blocks, and then when you can get off that block you've got to tackle a heck of a running back or a quarterback that runs pretty well.
"That's what tough. That's what they thrive on."
Mount Carmel will be facing an Edwardsville team that has been held below 42 points only three times and never below 20. The Tigers' defense has four shutouts and has allowed only 117 points.
Mount Carmel's defense features Division I linemen Enoch Smith (Michigan State) and Steve Richardson (Minnesota) along with linebacker Sam Connolly and defensive back Christian Searles.
"We have to have a very good game plan that our kids understand, and then we're going to have to go out and execute it," Martin said. "They're not unbeatable, but they're a very good program."
Mount Carmel players to watch: RB Matt Domer (133 carries, 1,125 yards, 11 TDs), RB Jimmy Mickens (163 carries, 1,039 yards, 12 TDs), QB Marko Boricich, TE-LB Sam Connolly, DL Enoch Smith, DL Steve Richardson.
Edwardsville players to watch: QB Dan Marinko (162-of-259, 2,654 yards, 28 TDs, 4 Ints.; 634 yards rushing, 17 TDs); WR Darius Crochrell (60 catches, 845 yards, 14 TDs); RB Elijah Crockett (98 carries, 698 yards, 6 TDs); RB-DB Craig James (301 yards rushing, 3 TDs; 27 tackles, 3 Ints.); LB Zac Rujawitz (80 tackles, 2 sacks); WR Isaiah Michl (32 catches, 654 yards, 7 TDs); WR Fontez Davis (34 catches, 580 yards, 2 TDs)
Fun fact: Former Edwardsville head coach Tim Dougherty left the Mount Carmel defensive coaching staff in 1981 and his spot was taken by Lenti.