This Saturday the No. 14-seed Caravan (7-4) will host No. 2-seed Lincoln-Way East (10-1) at Gately Park at 1:00 in my Game of the Week.
The Griffins of Lincoln-Way East are ranked No. 5 in the Sun-Times, No. 6 in the Tribune and No. 12 in MaxPreps.
During the 2014 season the Frankfort squad played seven winning teams, losing the opener to Oak Park and River Forest (7-2), before beating Lincoln-Way Central (5-4) twice, Homewood-Flossmoor (7-2), Joliet West (5-4), Bolingbrook (6-3) and Reavis (7-2).
Here's the full schedule (with home team in CAPS):
Oak Park and River Forest 49, LINCOLN-WAY EAST 34
Lincoln-Way East 23, LINCOLN-WAY CENTRAL 15
Lincoln-Way East 44, STAGG 0
Lincoln-Way East 28, LOCKPORT 25
LINCOLN-WAY EAST 43, Homewood-Flossmoor 40
LINCOLN-WAY EAST 42, Joliet West 14
Lincoln-Way East 42, SANDBURG 13
LINCOLN-WAY EAST 23, Bolingbrook 9
LINCOLN-WAY EAST 56, Joliet Central 0
LINCOLN-WAY EAST 42, Lincoln-Way Central 7
LINCOLN-WAY EAST 47, Reavis 14
Unlike Mount Carmel, Lincoln-Way East boasts no notable alumni on its Wikipedia page.
Now, before I get to the Caravan, I just have to relay a little story I heard in the stands of the Loyola - Mount Carmel game a few weeks ago. I sat next to an alum in his mid-sixties who played football for the Caravan when Coach Frank Lenti was a student there (and playing baseball, not football, by the way). Since practically everyone at Carmel seems to be a legacy, I was stunned when he mentioned that his father did not attend Mount Carmel. But there was a good reason. When this man's father's father, who drove a truck and made deliveries in the Woodlawn neighborhood back in -- I don't know -- the 1930s or '40s, he would see Carmel students drinking in the bars on 63rd Street during their lunch hour. "No son of mine is going to Mount Carmel!" he thundered to his wife. So my interlocutor's father ended up going to St. Ignatius instead (where the students presumably drank milk with their lunch).
As for the Mount Carmel football team, the Caravan are ranked No. 10 in the Sun-Times, No. 15 in the Trib and No. 17 in MaxPreps.
In eleven games so far, Carmel has played nine winning teams, which goes part of the way to explain their un-Carmel-like 7-4 record. The Woodlawn squad lost to St. Joseph's Prep, PA (6-3 and ranked No. 4 in the state of Pennsylvania by MaxPreps) in the opener, Providence (10-1), St. Rita (6-3) and Brother Rice (6-3), while defeating Morgan Park (6-3), Hales Franciscan (6-3), Loyola (7-2), Batavia (8-1) and Belleville West (6-3). That's quite a schedule!
Here's the full season at a glance:
St. Joseph's Prep (PA) 28, MOUNT CARMEL 27 (Toyota Park)
Mount Carmel 43, MORGAN PARK 6
PROVIDENCE 33, Mount Carmel 14
ST. RITA 23, Mount Carmel 21
MOUNT CARMEL 49, De La Salle 7
Brother Rice 26, MOUNT CARMEL 17
Mount Carmel 63, LEO 20
Mount Carmel 42, HALES FRANCISCAN 8
MOUNT CARMEL 10, Loyola 7
Mount Carmel 21, BATAVIA 16
Mount Carmel 24, BELLEVILLE WEST 6
Have the two schools played each other in recent years? Well, do these two meetings count as "recent"?
2008: Mount Carmel 34, LINCOLN-WAY EAST 31
2006: Mount Carmel 14, LINCOLN-WAY EAST 12
They must be, because a lady I sat next to at the Mount Carmel - Neuqua Valley game in 2012 (in which the Caravan prevailed, 26-21, on the road) was still crowing about those victories.
Now, who do I think will win on Saturday? I've seen both "storied programs" a number of times over the years. Just this season I watched the Griffins fall to OPRF while seeing the Caravan a total of five times, including all four of their losses before the Loyola game. (I was beginning to think I was a jinx.)
While there are times I think Mount Carmel and Frank Lenti don't particularly care for this blog (unlike almost every other school, I never get a "favorite" or a "retweet" from Carmel -- never), every word I've written about the team, its players and coaches has been out of profound respect. I mean, how can you not admire the winningest high school football coach in Illinois history? But, at the same time, I have to admit that, just like I do with Notre Dame and the New York Yankees, I nearly always root against the Caravan, because I like to see the underdog win. (By the way, I once saw Coach Lenti at a Loyola game wearing a Yankees baseball cap -- I kid you not!)
So, back to Saturday's game: Who's going to win and get the privilege of taking on Providence in the semifinals? I have no idea -- both teams are capable of winning the 7A crown -- but I just can't see Mount Carmel losing a quarterfinal game at Gately. I just can't.
* James T. Farrell.