MT. CARMEL – There is no escaping the buildup for tonight’s game between Mt. Carmel and Olney. After all, it has been 16 long years since these two former members of the long-defunct North Egypt Conference last met.
As more than just a few fans and officials from both sides publically yearn for a return to days gone by, there is also no escaping the fact that from the modern athlete’s perspective, this matchup is nothing more than a non-conference game.
In other words, tonight’s 7 p.m. game is more important to mom, dad, grandma and grandpa than anyone wearing numbers and helmets.
“I don’t even know how much the kids realize it, because as far as they’ve known, there’s never been an NEC. It’s always been the Big 8,” said Aces coach Michael Brewer, who was a star player at the Hilltop even as the 74-year-old league was in a full death spiral, with teams splintering off to four other conferences and Mt. Carmel itself exiled to the Indiana-based Big 8 in 2003.
“Now, other people in the community are excited to go to Olney and play an old NEC game. For me and other people, I think it’s neat. It’s good to play an Illinois team any time we can.”
For the Aces, the four-year contract with Olney is much-needed relief from the travel headaches of the previous fourth-week matchup against regional power Breese Mater Dei, a series that ended last year after six games and a 3-3 finish. Mater Dei is a 127-mile journey. Olney is only 36 miles away.
Mt. Carmel (1-2, 0-2 in Big 8) is still searching for an identity on offense. The Golden Aces offense has scored just five touchdowns in three games (to go along with a Trevor Peterson defensive pick-6 against Harrisburg).
“It just continues to be a mistake by a guy here or there. It’s not always the same guy, but those things kill drives,” Brewer said. “When you lack consistency, it’s hard to know what to stick with.
“But it will get fixed, and we’ll get rolling.”
Olney (2-1, 2-1 in the Little Illini Conference), hasn’t had that same difficulty, averaging almost 33 points per game. Yet, the Tigers offense was held off the board in an 8-7 loss to undefeated Red Hill (3-0) in the rain last week (only a 58-yard scoop-and-score on defense by Kaleb Foster averted a shutout).
“They have a bunch of good athletes and good size. So, we’ll have our hands full this week,” said Brewer of the Tigers, who he compares in style to Mt. Vernon, Ind., the Aces opponent in Week 2. “They (Olney) have a nice spread attack, with good speed. They spread the field well.”
While sophomore running back Gavin Dorn has the most carries from the Olney backfield (49 for 330 yards), quarterback Dakotah Brown has the most overall touches with 76. He is 33-of-53 through the air for 463 yards (six touchdowns and four interceptions) and 136 yards on the ground on 23 keepers.
Brown’s TD count over the top is the best in the LIC. Caleb Gates of Paris follows with five touchdowns.
Mt. Carmel has put up respectable numbers on offense. The Aces average 237 yards in total offense, with 148 of it per game on the ground. But they have shown neither a quick-strike or long-drive capability as of yet.
The bottom-line for Brewer is “we’re more concerned about us. It doesn’t really matter who we play right now because we’ve not been good on offense.”
There isn’t a league in Illinois with as much residual passion surrounding it as the NEC, even this many years after its demise. So for that reason kids, please forgive your folks if it seems like they care more about this neighborhood battle than they do about games in the Big 8 Conference that count for more. Because they just do. There’s no escaping that.
ACES ASIDES… Olney is turning the resumption of the series into an event all its own. It is “Military Appreciation Night” for starters, and prior to the kickoff members of the 1982 Tigers team, the last team to defeat Mt. Carmel, will be honored… The Aces have won the last 20 games in the series, and 31 of the last 32, including two wins in 1986, the latter coming in the second round of the IHSA Class 3A playoffs.