With five minutes remaining in the second quarter of Saturday night's game against Seneca, Lisle senior defensive back Mitch McCarthy made the play that will perhaps define the Lions' season.
Facing third-and-14 from its own 37-yard line, Seneca's Tyler Hovious caught a screen pass and a pair of blocks on what looked to be a sure 63-yard score. However, McCarthy refused to abandon the play, sprinting downfield and eventually saving a touchdown by tackling Hovious at the 2-yard line. The Lions (4-3, 4-1 Interstate Eight Conference Small) then held off three Seneca rushes and a pass, keeping the Fighting Irish two scores behind in an eventual 33-6 Lisle victory.
"Once I saw him take off, I knew I had to get on my horse and just go as hard as I could," the 6-foot, 180 pound McCarthy said. "I dove at his ankles at the last second and luckily got him."
"That right there … has been the character of our defense all year and the leadership of Mitch McCarthy," Lions coach Dan Sanko said. "He has really stepped up.
"I can't give him enough praise. For him to not quit and to run (Hovious) down like that, to me, was probably the play of our season."
McCarthy hurt the Fighting Irish on offense as well, rushing for a 9-yard touchdown on Lisle's first possession and adding a 70-yard touchdown reception with 6:34 in the third.
Seneca (3-4, 2-3 IEC Small) looked sharp at the outset, as sophomore quarterback Peyton Schrag found Luke Jackson on a play-action pass just 1:24 into the game to give the Fighting Irish a quick 6-0 advantage.
From there Lisle dominated, taking one step closer to a potential postseason berth.
"We're looking for the playoffs," junior Nick Leonard said. "We knew we could beat them. We just had to come out and do it."
Holding a 7-6 lead late in the first quarter, Lisle defensive lineman Terrance Allen stuffed Hovious on fourth-and-1 to give the Lions the ball. Senior Anthony Ventrella promptly scampered 45 yards to his left on the next play, giving the hosts a 14-6 advantage.
A 53-yard touchdown rush from Leonard pushed Lisle's lead to 20-6 before McCarthy's last-ditch effort put Seneca down for good.
"(McCarthy) was right in front of me," a smiling Leonard said of the touchdown-saving tackle. "I was thinking 'I hope Mitch gets there, because I'm dying.'"