BOONVILLE – In a season of otherwise lopsided wins and losses, Mount Carmel’s narrow Big 8 Conference victory here on Friday night was big for no small reason. The 28-21 victory over Boonville proved the Golden Aces worth in a back-and-forth mettle-testing affair they would certainly expect to find in the post-season. Which is good, since it now appears there will be a post-season.
Mount Carmel, with its’ fifth win of the season, may have finally secured a playoff bid, the team’s seventh straight and 29th in the last 30 years.
The Aces seemed stuck on four wins after consecutive losses to Jasper and Vincennes Lincoln. That added to the sense of urgency for the team to pick up this one and not turn the regular-season finale next week against Mount Vernon, IL into a game of critical mass.
“This win was very important for the playoffs,” said sophomore Levi Laws. “We still want to get that sixth win next week to be sure.”
Mount Carmel [5-3, 4-2 in the Big 8] rallied three different times in the game, finally gaining the upper hand on a six-yard run by quarterback Reece Metcalf with 3:50 remaining. A two-point pass from Metcalf to Laws made it 28-21, which the Aces defense maintained with some solid play near the end.
The Laws catch, one of two consecutive two-point conversions, turned the numbers game in the Aces favor, after two failed attempts early put them behind the 8-ball for much of the night.
“The offense did a good job of making up those missed [conversions],” said Aces coach Darren Peach.
Following a scoreless first quarter, Mount Carmel jumped on top on a 12-yard pass from Metcalf to Jared Piper. But, a conversion pass failed, providing an opening for Boonville, one the Pioneers at first could not take advantage of.
Piper’s next big play came on defense, when he picked off Boonville quarterback Evan Hendrickson in the end zone to halt one scoring threat. When Thomas Alllen also stole one out of the air, it appeared the Aces would carry the lead into the locker room at halftime.
Then, the Pioneers got into the act, with the first of two interceptions of Metcalf passes [the first time all season he’s allowed that many]. A 23-yard dump pass from Hendrickson to Seth Lowe landed the Pioneers inside the Aces’ 5-yard line in the waning seconds of the half. They beat the clock by only 3.3 seconds when Austin Castleman rammed it in from the 3-yard line. Reliable Jake McConnell booted the extra point, and Boonville led at intermission, 7-6.
The conversion offset worsened in the third period. Mount Carmel regained the lead on Piper’s 28-yard TD catch. But the lead was only 12-7 after a missed 2-point pass.
Boonville [3-5, 3-3] needed only 1:31 to respond. Aided by a 38-yard Hendrickson pass to 6-foot-4, 240-pound tight end Austin Moore and a 29-yard flip to Mitchell Bane, Boonville regained the lead on a 7-yard run by Castleman and the kick by McConnell, to make it 14-12.
Laws, the Aces leading receiver, then showed why he is at his most dangerous after a catch. He hauled in a shuffle pass from Metcalf, burned through a couple of tackles, and navigated his way to the end zone from 76 yards away to put the Aces back on top. Except this time, the 2-pointer worked on a Metcalf run, to make it 20-14 by the end of the third quarter.
“They had us in a bad down-and-distance situation, but ’The Exctier’ showed how exciting he was,” said Peach of Laws, who began the night with the 9th best yardage total of any receiver in the state [795 yards on 35 catches].
Still, it wasn’t enough, as Boonville struck again. Consecutive runs of 46 and 18 yards by Andrew Arriago set the Pioneers up for more points. Castleman’s one-yard push – his third score of the night – put the hosts back up, 21-20, with McConnell’s PAT again the difference.
The game-winning drive by the Aces featured a 30-yard pass to Caleb Kline that put the ball inside the 10, preceding the clinching run by Metcalf.
On the night, Metcalf completed 21 of 32 passes for 302 yards, and three scores. His season yardage total of 1,947 now leaves him on the doorstep of Aces history, with just 62 yards needed to break Luke Drone’s 2002 record of 2,008 yards.
After an entire season in the shotgun, the Aces surprised the Pioneers in the second half by moving Metcalf under center much of the time. That was just fine with running back Sam Wampler.
“They told me at halftime that was probably going to happen,” said Wampler, game-high with 116 yards on 14 carries. “I love running under center. I’m a Mount Carmel fullback. That’s how we run.”
Hendrickson, one of 21 Boonville seniors honored on Senior Night, completed the first six passes he threw en route to a 224-yard night, on 17 of 26 accuracy. The Pioneers added 102 yards on the ground.
Mount Carmel now has a total of 40 playoff points, which is the total of victories by opponents on a team’s schedule. That is also the exact total it took for a 5-4 team to qualify last year, the highest in tournament history. Usually, the cutoff falls in the 35-38 range.
Of course, a victory by the Aces on Friday against Mount Vernon [0-8] in the regular-season finale at Riverview Stadium, and the entire discussion is moot. There has never been a 6-3 team not make the playoffs since the expansion to eight classes in 2000.