EDWARDSVILLE — Mount Carmel's defense was a heavy load Saturday for the Edwardsville Tigers. If that wasn't enough, Illinois running back recruit Matt Domer also was as good as advertised.
Domer ran for 184 yards and three touchdowns and the dominant Mount Carmel defense slammed the door in a 34-7 victory over Edwardsville in a Class 7A football semifinal.
"They're a good football team, guys," Edwardsville coach Matt Martin said. "If we want to compete at this level, we're going to have to raise the bar. Our kids got an opportunity to see it. So far (since) I've been here they've all been raising the bar each year, so it will give us something to shoot for."
Down 21-0 in the first quarter after Mount Carmel (12-1) scored on its first three possessions, Edwardsville (12-1) got its only TD on a 1-yard pass from all-state quarterback Dan Marinko to Darius Crochrell late in the third quarter.
The Tigers came into the semifinals averaging 41.7 points, but could never get much going on a chilly, windy day.
"This is a special group," Martin said. "It's hard for me to see this senior class go."
Finding a quick spark was essential for the Caravan, which struggled offensively in a 7-0 quarterfinal win over Downers Grove North.
"Our whole thing was to start fast," Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti said after his Chicago-based powerhouse improved to 104-18 in playoff history and will play Lake Zurich (12-1) for its 12th state championship next week. "We were going into a hostile environment and it's great because they were the No. 1 seed. For a change we were the underdog --and it's a great role for us to play.
"It was awesome that we were able to start fast and then just keep motoring along, but our defense was just tremendous."
Edwardsville was limited to six yards rushing on 21 carries by Mount Carmel's dominant defensive line and linebackers. Marinko was 14-of-33 passing for 140 yards and one TD.
"It was a concern going in," Martin said of Mount Carmel's defense, led by Division I line recruits Enoch Smith (Michigan State) and Steve Richardson (Minnesota). "My concern was the defensive and offensive line, trying to win the battle up front. We've been able to do that pretty much all year ... at least hold our own and enough to let our skill kids make plays.
"(Mount Carmel) and the wind took away a big phase of the game. They're pretty good."
A 10-yard punt on its first possession wasn't a good sign for Edwardsville and the Caravan quickly made things worse.
Domer took a handoff, blasted through a hole and was gone for a 49-yard touchdown run on the Caravan's first play from scrimmage.
Not long after Zach Mirabelli's extra-point made it 7-0, Mount Carmel scored again following an interception by Deontae Brown.
Brown's pick gave his team the ball at the Edwardsville 21 and four plays later, Jimmy Mickens scored on a 9-yard TD run. The botched extra-point try left the Caravan with a 13-0 lead.
Domer's second TD of the first half came after he took a pitch to the right side and scored from 10 yards out. Quarterback Marko Boricich hit Brendan Griffin on the two-point conversion pass and the Caravan led 21-0.
Edwardsville threatened twice in the first half. A Marinko pass was incomplete on fourth-and-10 at the Mount Carmel 17, then the Tigers fumbled the ball away at the Caravan's 1-yard line with 3:20 remaining in the first half, with Brown picking up the recovery.
"We always tell the kids you're one play away from stopping a drive," Lenti said. "You're one play away from scoring."
Lenti came away extremely impressed by Marinko, a junior who threw for 2,794 yards and 29 TDs this season.
"We felt that their quarterback was the guy we had to control," Lenti said. "He's one of the best I've seen, he might be better than the kid at St. Rita and the kid at Loyola. He's pretty darned good, I think he can play for anybody in our end of the state."
The Tigers carried the ball 12 times for no yards in the first half while Marinko was 7-for-20 for 100 yards at the break.
Aided by several personal foul calls on the Caravan, Edwardsville had a little more success offensively in the second half.
After Crochrell's TD catch, the Tigers threatened again early in the fourth quarter until the drive stalled at the 37.
Martin was asked about the inability to score at the 1-yard line.
"Sometimes we're our own worst enemy," he said. "That would have helped, no doubt, but they're pretty good up front."
The Caravan did not attempt one pass during the game, but didn't need to. Boricich did complete the two-point conversion pass, but that isn't included in the passing statistics.