JOLIET – Joliet Catholic quarterback Cade Earl and running back Michael Johnson did not look like teammates who were happy they had helped the Hilltoppers beat Carmel 41-21 Friday night in the East Suburban Catholic Conference opener.
Instead, the two seniors were concerned about senior running back Harry Davis, who was carried off the field in the second quarter with an injury to his right ankle. He did not return.
“We’re a family, and when one man gets hurt, we all hurt,” Johnson said. “We knew [after he was injured] that we had to go all out for Harry. When Harry got hurt, it lit a fire under us.”
Davis scored the first two touchdowns of the game to stake JCA (3-0, 1-0) to a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. He scored on a three-yard run and also caught a six-yard pass from Earl for a touchdown. He rushed for 63 yards on six carries. He was hurt while blocking on a running play.
“He was getting X-rays, and I know he was in a lot of pain,” Hilltoppers coach Dan Sharp said. “He was having a great night. It’s a part of the game that just stinks. Last week with Cade, it worked out. We’re just hoping for the best.”
Sharp was referring to the shoulder injury Earl suffered against Wheaton North that knocked him out of the game in the first half. Earl returned to the starting lineup against Carmel and completed 9 of 14 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns.
“With Harry, our offense is explosive. He is fantastic in the open field and hard to bring down,” Earl said.
Defensive end Luke Mander led the Hilltoppers’ defensive effort against the Corsairs (0-3, 0-1). Carmel drove inside the JCA 20-yard-line three times in the first half but came up empty.
Mander, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound senior, blocked Matt Hellen’s 35-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter. Mander stopped the Corsairs’ last drive of the first half by stripping quarterback Jeremy Struzel of the ball and falling on it.
“A couple of weeks ago, we actually changed up our field goal blocking scheme,” Mander said. “Ken [Aguirre] and [Tyler] Witt both pulled off the guards, and I just came in free and blocked it.”
JCA linebacker Keaton Coleman recovered another fumble at the Hilltoppers’ 19 to stop another Carmel scoring drive.
“Our defense is tenacious,” Sharp said. “Our guys do a good job with their backs against the wall. That’s a very good and difficult offense to defend. For our guys to hold them down there like that was huge. They did get a lot of yards on us, and that’s a concern, but anytime you play against a Naval Academy-type option offense, it is difficult.”
JCA led, 21-0, at halftime after Johnson scored on a one-yard run with 1:41 to play in the second quarter. The Hilltoppers opened the third quarter with a six-play, 70-yard scoring drive that Johnson finished with a two-yard run. Johnson’s third touchdown run of the game, an 11-yard run with 4:29 to play in the third quarter, gave the Hilltoppers a 34-7 lead.
Bill Rotnicki finished the scoring by grabbing a 48-yard touchdown pass from Earl. Rotnicki caught it at the Carmel 14 and dragged four Corsairs’ defenders into the end zone.
Johnson rushed 21 times for 161 yards. The Hilltoppers rushed for 301 yards total. Carmel rushed for 264.