By Paul D. Bowker
To fully understand the Mount Carmel vs. St. Rita football rivalry, you have to go back more than 80 years. These teams first laced up their football shoes to battle each other in 1924, a 7-0 Mount Carmel win.
Since then, there has been a scoreless tie, in 1936. There was a 62-0 Mount Carmel win in 1968. And there was a 48-0 St. Rita win in 1963.
Thousands of spectators will pack the stands at St. Rita High School on Chicago's South Side Friday night for the teams’ 86th meeting.
“To us, every game is important. But it’s a big rivalry for the kids from their areas, from their neighborhoods,” said Mount Carmel head coach Frank Lenti, who played in four of the rivalry’s games as a player and has coached in 25 of the games.
“It’s a great traditional rivalry,” St. Rita head coach Todd Kuska said. “The bloodlines run deep on both sides.”
But this is more than a traditional game between neighboring Catholic schools in Chicago with bragging rights going to the winners and high-fives all around at Sunday morning church services. Both teams are chasing championships, and it’s not unusual for them to play in the postseason. Combined, Mount Carmel and St. Rita have won 171 games and two state championships in the last 10 years.
Mount Carmel lost just once last year and went to the Class 8A semifinals; St. Rita went 10-4, losing in the Class 7A quarterfinals.
This year, St. Rita enters the game with a 3-0 record, including a 28-21 win over Lakota West (Ohio) in the Kirk Herbstreit Series at Cincinnati. Mount Carmel has won two of three games, scoring 104 points in its first two games.
Adding fuel to the fire for Friday night’s game is Mount Carmel’s surprising 6-3 loss to Providence in an all-night rainstorm last Friday.
“The weather was horrendous,” said Kuska, who attended the game because St. Rita didn’t play until Saturday (a 45-6 win over Leo).
“Our kids couldn’t even warm up on the field it was so bad,” Lenti said.
A career-best, 40-yard field goal by Pat Wright in the third quarter sealed the win for Providence (2-1), which will play St. Rita next week. Five turnovers and penalties ruined the night for Mount Carmel.
“Uncharacteristic for us,” Lenti said.
The loss tossed the Caravan out of the No. 1 spot in the city’s rankings and made this week’s game against St. Rita a “must win” scenario in terms of the Chicago Catholic Blue Conference. Another loss would leave Mount Carmel at 0-2 in the league; for St. Rita, it’s the league opener.
“Now that we have a loss, I’m sure they smell blood,” Lenti said.
Kuksa knows the Mount Carmel team he watched last week isn’t the one he’ll see Friday night, especially considering the now dry weather conditions will help a speedy Caravan team that is led offensively by senior quarterback Jordan Lynch, a Northern Illinois verbal commitment, and junior running backs Arthur Cano and Denzel Thompson.
The Mustangs’ early success has included big plays by their defense, including an interception by David Marciano in the team’s opening win. The Mustangs held Leo to 6 points in a Catholic League crossover game played in the rain last Saturday.
“We’ve been playing pretty well right now,” Kuska said. “Our defense is doing a good job of forcing turnovers.”
The last time St. Rita played Mount Carmel at home, two years ago, the Mustangs won, 7-6. But they have lost five of their last six games against their rivals.
Stats and Such…
* Maine South running back Matt Perez scored two touchdowns, including a 61-yarder, in a 42-0 victory over Glenbrook North on Monday, a game postponed by two days due to flooding. The game was stopped in the third quarter because of darkness.
* Bolingbrook quarterback Brad Geever ran for a career-high 151 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-21 win over Morgan Park. The Raiders (3-0) forced six turnovers by Morgan Park, which blew a 15-6 lead.
* Nick Mlady ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns, including a score on a 51-yard run, as Naperville North, the defending Class 8A state champ, won its third consecutive game, 35-0 over Glenbard East.
* Lincoln Park’s Jason Stigler returned the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, caught a 55-yard scoring pass and ran for 60 yards and a score. Lincoln Park (3-0) defeated Gage Park, 48-0.
* Niles North running back Terry Turner scored seven touchdowns in a 64-63 win over rival Niles West. Turner ran for 381 yards and scored one of his touchdowns on a 92-yard kickoff return.
Games Worth Watching
Wheaton Warrenville South (3-0), one of three unbeaten schools in the DuPage Valley Conference, will meet Glenbard North (2-1). The Panthers’ only loss came in the opening week to Bartlett (3-0). Next week the Panthers take on unbeaten Naperville North.
In another DuPage Valley battle, Naperville Central (3-0) will face Wheaton North (2-1).
Providence Catholic (2-1), hot off its upset win over Mount Carmel, will play Saturday at Loyola Academy (2-1). Providence is tied with Brother Rice for first place in Catholic League Blue.
Geneva (3-0), which is averaging more than 40 points per game and hasn’t allowed more than a touchdown in any game, meets Glenbard South (2-1) in a Western Sun showdown. Both teams are 1-0 in league play. Geneva’s Michael Ratay might be worth the price of admission alone. He has scored 13 touchdowns in three games.
Recruiting: Ward Commits to Northwestern
Patrick Ward, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive lineman from Providence, verbally committed to Northwestern last weekend. Ward played against a future teammate last Friday when the Celtics knocked off Mount Carmel, 6-3. Anthony Battle, a defensive end at Mount Carmel, previously committed to Northwestern.
Basketball: Pratl Hangs With Wade
Shaun Pratl, a basketball and football star at Richards High School on the southwest side of Chicago, got to show his hoops stuff in a Dwyane Wade Converse commercial that was filmed two weeks ago at Richards.
“That was really cool,“ Pratl said. “He (Wade) treated me like I was just one of his friends, someone he’s known for a long time.”
The school packed the gymnasium for the filming and a pep rally in which Wade, a star for the Miami Heat, addressed the students. Wade is a Richards High School graduate and came back to the school last winter to cheer Richards in the state basketball tournament. Wade played for the U.S. Olympics team that won gold in Bejing, and he showed the gold medal to Richards students.
“He wanted to come back to his old high school. That meant a lot to us, probably more than he knows,” Pratl said. “He could have done this anywhere. He could have done it in Bejing.”
Said Wade on his website, www.dwyanewade3.com: “When I was here, it meant a lot to me. Eight years ago, this is where I first began to dream about college and the NBA.”
Pratl, a 6-foot-8 center for the basketball team and wide receiver for the football team, says he is undecided on which sport he will play in college. Colorado State is among the schools interested in him for football, but a long list of suitors in basketball include Iowa, Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Indiana State.
One thing he’s thinking about: Some two-sport athletes who played basketball in college went on to play for NFL teams, including Antonio Gates (Kent State) with the San Diego Chargers and Joe Reitz (Western Michigan), who is now on the practice squad of the Baltimore Ravens.
“Everybody has been telling me, it’s easier to go from basketball to football,” Pratl said.
Paul Bowker covers the Chicago area for MaxPreps. He may be reached at email@example.com