MOUNT CARMEL, ILL. – There is nothing wrong with being a finesse team, Mount Carmel football coach Darren Peach told a large gathering Sunday at the team’s post-season banquet.
Why, his Golden Aces teams have been very successful with the wide-open, pass-happy finesse teams of the last 10 years.
However, the 2016 edition which finished 10-1 after the school’s first 9-0 regular-season since 2007, was different. A “tougher” team he would say, almost a throwback to Mount Carmel’s historic heritage.
“This year’s team is probably one of the toughest teams we’ve ever had,” said Peach’s, already the school’s winningest coach but now the longest-tenured as well, wrapping up his 16th year at the helm. The defense “was exponentially better this year than last,” he said. “It was refreshing to see tackling again.”
“For me to be able to stand here and say you guys were a physical football team, I don’t think there is a bigger compliment that I could give you.”
A true indicator of just how “tough” the Aces had become came in the Week Six Big 8 showdown at Jasper. Mount Carmel edged the Wildcats 28-27. At the time, Peach sensed a reversal of roles in the way the game was played. It was the Aces who had become the feared power team instead of the other way around.
“Their coach (veteran Tony Ahrens) said before the game that If ‘you don’t stop them off-tackle, you’re going to lose,’” Peach said. “That’s what happened. They couldn’t stop us off-tackle. We kind of became Jasper this year.”
It was the first win by Mount Carmel at Jasper in their 14-year history in the Big 8, and this year’s seniors can revel in the fact that they won three league titles in their four years at the Hilltop, also a famous first.
The Aces were also one of the more persistent teams around, because three games ran long – the opener against Harrisburg and a Big 8 game against Princeton were spread over two days because of the weather, while another – a memorable 27-20 victory at Breese Mater Dei – finished at 11:45 p.m. after three separate lighting delays. The Aces stormed back after the last delay, outscoring the Knights 20-0 down the stretch to pull the win out.
Mount Carmel, after completing the sweep of regular-season opposition, returned to the state playoffs after a one-year hiatus. The Aces overwhelmed Sesser-Valier, 63-6, in the Class 3A opener at Riverview Stadium, before losing at Tolono Unity, 48-22, in the second round.
Following the introduction of the nine seniors, eight juniors 13 sophomores, and 26 freshman in the program, special awards were presented. Daxton Peach, who after missing his entire junior season with an injury before bouncing back to quarterback the club in 2016, claimed the top two awards – Most Valuable Player and the Golden Helmut Award.
The prestigious Helmut Award used to be the only award presented at the banquet, said assistant coach Kevin Smith, a recipient himself. “We talk about the modern era of Aces football, and you talk about (coach) Jim John, and it got started there. Then, the buildup in the 1960s where football gave the town something to believe in on Friday night.”
Smith touched on the transition to other coaches, including Larry Davis in the 1970s and early 1980s, then onward to Larry Lockhart and John Hart, who Darren Peach followed to the sidelines in 2001. Smith, who started at center on the Davis-coached Class 3A state championship team of 1981, also praised the work of long-time assistant John Gates, part of the “bloodline that put all that together.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re with us for one year or four years, you’re all part of the family,” Smith said.
Daxton Peach, known for on-field antics during his father Darren’s post-game shows, including cartwheels, rushed for 1,506 yards and threw for 803 more on 42-of-79 accuracy.
Trevor Kennard, who set two rushing records, including the career mark of 5,060 yards, outdistancing former record holder Brad Haywood by 1,300 yards, won the Offensive MVP award, as chosen by his teammates. Early in the season, Kennard broke the single-game mark as well, with 319 yards against Princeton.
He and Peach were honored for being named to the Football Coaches Association all-state team (honorable mention). Peach was also named academic all-state along with Jackson Marcotte.
There were co-winners of the Defensive MVP award. Both Elijah Hadra and Sampson Margelin had “defining moments’ in big games, according to assistant coach Michael Brewer. Margelin led the Aces in tackles with 101 (49 solo also was tops), while Hadra led the team with five sacks.
Peach, Kennard, Hadra, Margelin, Marcotte, along with Zach Whitter, who led the team in interceptions (4) and freshman guard Elijah Laws, were named first team all-Big 8, the largest Mount Carmel contingent ever honored by the league.
Coach Peach also thanked the group Moms For Football, and parents in general, for their support.
“Football is a tough sport, a grinding sport,” he said. “Sometimes a kid needs to be pumped up a little bit, and you all have done that.”