CHICAGO — Normal Community High School's seniors had just met with Ironmen coach Wes Temples. They wore stunned looks and didn't want to leave Gately Stadium's field Saturday.
However, another game was upcoming and they were politely asked to head to their locker room.
The final game of their careers just didn't feel like it should be the end.
“We left a lot of points out there,” said NCHS senior tailback Varshaun Dixon. “Dropped passes all over and missed blocks and guys not finishing.”
NCHS did everything but prevail on the scoreboard. The Ironmen held Mount Carmel to 167 yards of total offense, but two Ironmen turnovers and a blocked extra point were costly as the Caravan escaped with a 14-13 victory in a Class 7A second-round playoff game.
“A lot of things are hard to swallow,” said Temples when told of Mount Carmel's yardage. “This senior group is special and our defense played lights out. Our offense made the plays, but we needed one more. It's hard to see these guys walk off this field. We're going to miss them for an awfully long time.”
Second-seeded and fourth-ranked NCHS ended with a 10-1 record. Mount Carmel (8-3), the No. 18 seed, advanced to face East St. Louis in next week's quarterfinal round.
The Ironmen trailed 14-7 at halftime after throwing an interception in the end zone from Mount Carmel's 7-yard line on the half's final play.
NCHS wasn't denied in the third quarter. The Ironmen put together a seven-play, 49-yard drive, capped by quarterback Daylen Boddie's 14-yard run with 3:28 left, to cut the gap to 14-13.
However, Mount Carmel's Eddie McGee raced around the edge and blocked the extra-point attempt.
“We've done it before. We thought we noticed a weakness on their PAT,” said Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti, who has directed the Caravan to 11 of their record 12 state titles. “(Assistant coach) Jerry Blew called the block, Eddie performed and it worked out.”
Neither team generated much offensively the rest of the way.
The Caravan recorded only 27 yards and two first downs in the entire second half. But after Boddie's touchdown, NCHS couldn't get past midfield.
“We missed some plays and left some things on the field,” said Temples. “That's hard because deep down you feel like maybe you're a better team than them, but it didn't happen today.”
Mount Carmel took advantage of NCHS' miscues.
Davion Brooks intercepted a pass that went through an NCHS receiver's hands and returned it 44 yards to the Ironmen's 23 late in the first quarter. That led to quarterback Radomir Premovic's 5-yard TD run for a 7-0 lead with 44 seconds left in the quarter.
The Ironmen struck back quickly. Boddie busted up the middle and scored on a 54-yard run on the final play of the first quarter. Camron Hinman's kick forged a 7-all tie.
Mount Carmel took a 14-7 lead thanks to a 55-yard pass from Premovic to speedy Alek Thomas, a TCU football and baseball recruit, that put the ball at NCHS' 2. Aristole Nakos scored on the next play with 6:48 left until halftime.
NCHS put together a late drive, moving from its 37 to Mount Carmel's 7. The Ironmen decided against a field goal attempt, and Boddie was picked off in the end zone by Matthew Lenti.
“Our kicking game has not been a strength all year, and that's not on one person,” said Temples. “You see we had one blocked. We're on the 7-yard line. You look at those guys, and they want to score.
“Even though we didn't score, we go to half and no one is second guessing that. A one-point game, maybe now you do. We were right there. I would do it again.”
NCHS finished with 286 yards of total offense. Boddie gained 145 yards rushing on 21 carries, but the Caravan held 1,000-yard rusher Dixon to 55 yards on 14 carries. Boddie completed 8 of 22 attempts for 74 yards.
“We told our kids they're not 10-0 for no reason at all. Every play counts,” said Lenti. “We made good decisions with the football. We couldn't turn the ball over. A big difference was they turned the ball over and we didn't. It ended up being the difference in the game.”
Dixon was the last NCHS player to reach the locker room. Like the rest of his senior teammates, Dixon didn't want to take off his No. 23 jersey for the last time.
“Everyone did a real good job, staying focused and humble and playing with poise and control,” he said. “There are things we could have done different out there, but it is what it is now.”