Carmel Catholic might not throw the football all season as much as Notre Dame did on a rainy Friday night in Niles.
But what the Corsairs throw at opponents a running back who coach Andy Bitto calls the fastest back in Lake County, a kicker with a Division I leg, a savvy quarterback and a relentless defense figures to arm them with ample firepower to be headed to the postseason again.
Speedy Mike Panico scored a pair of touchdowns, including one on a kickoff return after the hosts pulled within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and Steven O'Block boomed 2 more field goals, as Carmel pulled away to capture a 26-7 win in East Suburban Catholic Conference play.
The Corsairs improved to 2-1, 2-1 with their second straight win, while Notre Dame fell to 0-3, 0-3. The Dons have lost to Carmel 14 straight times.
"They got their butt kicked last week (42-0 loss to Joliet Catholic), but they come out and play us tooth and nail," Bitto. "They always do. Mike (coach Mike Hennessey) always prepares them well to play against us. And they're young."
Operating out of a shotgun spread all night, Notre Dame senior quarterback Nick Pieruccini fired 46 passes, completing 22 for 244 yards. He was intercepted twice, by J.C. Pawlak and Derrick McLean, who substituted in after John Salvi went out with an apparent shoulder injury.
"You just got to be patient (against the spread offense)," said Carmel linebacker Tyler Lees, who had another active night around the ball. "You can't be too aggressive, because they're either going to go deep or they're going to go short on us."
Linebacker Mitch Nelson had the Corsairs' only sack, but the secondary Pawlak, Tyler Murphy, McLean, Salvi and Sean Brennan played creditably.
"The DBs played great and the D-line got a lot of pressure," Lees said. "It was good."
O'Block, meanwhile, attempted first-half field goals from 47 and 35 yards out.
They were good.
The left-footed junior has 5 field goals this season.
"He saves us if we can't get the first down," Panico said. "He's unbelievable. Great kicker."
Down 12-0 after three quarters, Notre Dame started at its own 2 and scored eight plays later when Pieruccini completed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Conner Gavin, who was one of nine Dons to have a reception.
But the home team's momentum was short-lived, as Panico returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
"I think we needed it," said Panico, who scored Carmel's first touchdown on an 11-yard run. "It picked us up a little bit. Right after that, we just started dominating the game.
"The two wings were talking before (the kickoff), and they were (saying), 'Let's crush this No. 3 (third player down),' " Panico added of Jordan Kos and Jack Schoen. "They made a great block. I cut right off them, cut right off Tyler Lees, and then just had to make a move on the kicker. It was all end zone from there."
Kos was a workhorse again in the Carmel backfield, rushing 23 times for 101 yards against a Notre Dame defense that was stout all night.
Corsairs quarterback Brian Brennan attempted only 3 passes, including one to Alex Young that was negated because of offensive pass interference and another that didn't count because Brennan was roughed up after his throw but operated the offense effectively. He gained 66 yards, including 3 on a TD run in the fourth quarter that put the game away.