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CHAMPAIGN -- Any football game in which Glenbard North tailback Justin Jackson plays is guaranteed to include big plays.
Mt. Carmel had more of them Saturday. The Caravan beat Glenbard North 28-14 to win the Class 8A championship at Memorial Stadium. Glenbard North fell to 0-4 in title games, while Mt. Carmel won its 11th state title and coach Frank Lenti won his 10th, his first since 2002.
After a scoreless first quarter Glenbard North (12-2) got on the board first on Jackson's 76-yard interception return, but Mt. Carmel scored the next 28 points. Four times the Panthers had the ball inside Mt. Carmel's 20-yard line and didn't come away with points.
"It was a hard-fought game," said Panthers coach Ryan Wilkens. "We need to run the ball better than we did, finish off some drives. We moved the ball pretty well, just couldn't get it done, couldn't put it in the end zone when we needed to."
Jackson ran for 58 yards on 20 first-half carries but gained just 5 more yards the entire second half. Mt. Carmel (13-1) knew it had to stop the highly sought-after Jackson, who finished his all-state junior season with 2,602 yards rushing. The Caravan adjusted to do just that.
"Pretty much the first quarter they were getting outside, and we basically shut the outside down," said Mt. Carmel linebacker D.J. Romero, who made a game-high 13 tackles. "He was just cutting back and then our inside defense was just basically clobbering him when he came back inside."
Jackson ran 10 of the Panthers' first 15 plays that led to a missed 35-yard field-goal attempt. His greatest impact came at cornerback when he broke on Mt. Carmel quarterback Don Butkus' swing pass to the right flat for a long, easy pick-6. Hector Ortiz kicked Glenbard North to a 7-0 lead at 9:23 of the second quarter.
Mt. Carmel answered immediately. Draco Smith took a pitch 78 yards around right end for a touchdown. Ivan Strmic's kick tied the score 7-7 at 9:34 of the second quarter.
Glenbard North moved the ball 61 yards on its next possession but was unable to convert a fourth down at Mt. Carmel's 19-yard line. The Caravan then engineered a 5-play, 80-yard drive capped by Butkus' 35-yard touchdown run on a simple sneak.
"We felt like we had a lot of missed opportunities," said Panthers receiver Ryan Storto, who caught 4 passes for 80 yards, including Brian Murphy's 6-yard touchdown pass with 3:44 left in the game. "We had a lot of drives where we got down far into their territory and just couldn't finish. It just changes the game and all the momentum."
The wheels truly started coming off for Glenbard North in the third quarter. After moving from their own 20-yard line to the Mt. Carmel 11, Vincent Speller made the first of 4 Caravan interceptions all inside its own 14-yard line.
Safety Justin Sanchez made 3 interceptions, equaling the number of sacks 285-pound junior tackle Steven Richardson had on Murphy.
"They were going to force our receivers and they were not letting Justin beat them, and they did a great job of that," Murphy said.
Sanchez's 63-yard interception return set up Butkus' 7-yard touchdown pass to Jason Gasser for a 21-7 Caravan lead after three quarters. Smith scored his second touchdown on a 25-yard run for a 28-7 lead with 10:31 to play.
"We feel bad that we didn't get it done," said Jackson, who appreciated the Glenbard North fans who "showed up for us."
"Our defense was playing good," Jackson said. "We let up a few big plays but our offense, we just couldn't do anything, so that's really what it came down to."