'We built a special bond'; It's hard to accept the end of a season
The end of a football season is never easy, and that was certainly the case for Prospect High School after a 49-15 loss at Mt. Carmel in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs Friday.
As coach Dan DeBoeuf gave his final postgame speech of 2023, tears flowed freely for many of the Knights.
"I feel like something that was a part of me just left," said a broken-up George "Crash" Davis, who needed a moment before continuing. "All my brothers -- we're gonna be family forever and I'm never gonna leave them. They're always gonna be my brothers.
"I did everything with them -- I ate with them, I've slept over at their house, we've played video games, practiced with them on and off the field. ...
"We built a special bond. It just hurts."
Prospect enjoyed a truly successful season, going 7-2 in the regular season. The Knights' only losses came against undefeated Hersey and Barrington.
DeBoeuf knew the challenge his team faced in Mt. Carmel, a school that's claimed a whopping 14 state championships. The last thing he wanted to do was come in and simply keep the score respectable.
So he called for an onside kick to start the game, used an unorthodox three-man offensive line for much of the first half and even tried a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from the 17-yard line.
"I feel like a mistake a lot of people make is they come in and they just want to keep it close and see what happens," DeBoeuf said. "We definitely were going to come in and try to win the game. Unfortunately, they're a really good team and we made too many mistakes to stay in it."
Mt. Carmel recovered that onside kick, but Prospect actually took a 7-0 lead when Parker Ray scored on a 70-yard fumble recovery just 23 seconds after kickoff.
"When I picked it up I had one thing in mind and that was to run as hard as I could and go to the house," Ray said. "I've always dreamed of having a varsity touchdown. I started my career on offense and decided to switch to defense."
The joy was short lived, however.
Mt. Carmel evened things up just 70 seconds later and built a 49-7 halftime lead behind QB Jack Elliott's 5 touchdown passes and his 37-yard scoring run.
Prospect did its best to make a quick-hitting passing game work, with Nick Carlucci snaring 8 receptions for 59 yards in the first half. Mt. Carmel's suffocating defense never allowed QB Jake Skoog to sustain any drives, however.
"They're well-coached," said Mt. Carmel coach Jordan Lynch, who threw 49 TD passes for Northern Illinois University from 2012-13. "You've got to come out aggressive. You're coming to the South Side of Chicago against the Catholic League and you've got nothing to lose.
"They're the big underdog, and you've got to shoot your shot. I loved the aggressiveness of the onside kick."
When the Knights look back on this season, they'll no doubt have many fond memories of some incredible victories. They opened the season with a 24-10 victory over a tough Lyons Twp. squad, defeated New Trier 24-20, beat Elk Grove, Buffalo Grove and Wheeling by a combined 162-57, and opened the playoffs with a 46-20 win over Buffalo Grove.
Skoog believes the Knights proved a lot of people wrong.
"Right from the beginning, people were doubting us," he said. "Young. Not smart. But this is the best group of guys I've every worked with. I've played football for 10 years now and I've never had more fun. It's not all serious in the locker room. This whole year we've just been having so much fun."
Davis wholeheartedly agreed -- and summed things up best with some sage words passed down from his grandfather.
"It sucks to lose. It really does," Davis said. "But you know what? I always remember (his) saying: Don't be sad that it's over. Be happy that it happened.
"I'm definitely sad it's over. But I'm totally grateful that it happened."