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Mount Carmel head coach Frank Lenti raises his hat to the crowd after winning the 8A state football championship. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media

CHAMPAIGN — The question all week long was, would Don Butkus play quarterback for Mount Carmel in the Class 8A state championship game?

The answer: Yes, and very effectively.

Butkus ran 35 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and later threw a seven-yard touchdown pass as the Caravan beat Glenbard North 28-14 Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.

Justin Sanchez had three interceptions to lead a Mount Carmel defense that did not allow a score until there were under four minutes left.

Mount Carmel (13-1) won its 11th title overall and its first since 2002. Coach Frank Lenti has led the Caravan to its last 10 championships, tying now-retired Matt Senffner of Providence for the

state record.

“I’ve never felt this happy in my entire life,” Butkus said. “It’s an insane feeling.

“I dreamed about this ever since I came to Carmel as a freshman. I always wanted to be a state champion.”

Butkus had left Mount Carmel’s semifinal win over Neuqua Valley after suffering a left ankle injury on an unsuccessful two-point conversion try in the closing minutes. The senior, a two-year starter and three-year varsity player, was held out of practice early last week. He only practiced one day in pads all week.

“Our trainers did a great job,” Butkus said.

Lenti gave some of the credit to his quarterback, with a nod to his famous great-uncle, Bears great Dick Butkus: “I think he is fitting of the name ‘Butkus.’”

Any doubt about his status was erased when Butkus led the Caravan onto the field for pregame warmups, running without seeming to favor the ankle.

He ran 12 times for 50 yards as the Caravan rushed for 256 yards. Draco Smith ran seven times for 129 yards, while Matt Domer added 79 on 13 carries. Butkus completed 2-of-5 passes for 34 yards with one interception.

Butkus’ night got off to a rough start when two-way star Justin Jackson of Glenbard North (12-2) stepped in front of one of his passes and ran it back 76 yards for a touchdown with 9:53 left in the second quarter.

After that, it was all Mount Carmel.

On the Caravan’s first offensive play after the kickoff, Smith raced 78 yards down the right sideline for the tying score.

A 34-yard burst by Domer set up Butkus’ touchdown run – a simple quarterback sneak that he turned into a long gainer – with 1:20 left in the first half.

Butkus’ scoring pass to an open Jason Gasser in the middle of the end zone made it 21-7.

Smith added his second score on a 25-yard run with 10:31 left in the game.

Mount Carmel’s defense didn’t allow a score until Brian Murphy hit Ryan Storto with a six-yard touchdown pass with 3:44 remaining.

The Caravan limited Jackson to 63 yards on 28 carries. Murphy ran 16 times for 46 yards and was 9-of-25 passing for 168 yards with four interceptions.

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