WOOD RIVER -- For the first time 2016 the Aces will be playoff bound.
Mount Carmel punched its ticket on Saturday afternoon, with the Aces' run game and their stout defensive play guiding the Aces to a 27-7 victory over East Alton-Wood River on Saturday in Wood River.
In several games the Aces have been victims of a slow start and slowly came alive as the game went on, but in Saturday's contest it was the exact opposite.
Offensively the Aces came out of the gate dominant in the first ever meeting between the two schools.
Starting with tremendous field position on their first drive, it took the Aces just three plays to reach the endzone, with junior Kaleb Applebey walking it in on a 15-yard QB keeper score.
Senior Cade Newkirk continued to wreak havoc defensively, as he quickly squashed the Oilers' next drive. The Oilers had dialed up a read option play, but Newkirk was in the backfield before the quarterback even had time to think. Newkirk forced a fumble, almost even intercepting the exchange and recovered it himself at the East Alton 11-yard line, setting the Aces with tremendous field position once again.
Aces sophomore running back Zeke Hadra made quick work of such a great opportunity, racing to the endzone for an 11-yard score on the first play of the possession, putting Mount Carmel ahead 14-0.
The Oilers would respond with a touchdown on their ensuing drive, one which was allowed by the Aces falling victim to a bang-bang pass interference call on a 3rd-and-6. What could have been a three-and-out was new life for the Oilers, who found their first and only success (of the game) offensively on the drive.
Looking to be in total control early, the Aces scored once again, this time it was Newkirk finding the endzone on a 2-yard rush touchdown to cap off a six play, 43-yard drive for the score. It would be the last time either team would score for quite a while however, as the game shied away from a shootout and veered toward a defensive battle.
To East Alton's credit they managed to keep the Aces offense under wraps for over two quarters of play, a feat that not many teams have been capable of achieving.
Between frequent blitzes, staying disciplined on screen calls and not allowing the Aces' playmakers to reach the edge, East Alton found something that was working defensively.
It wasn't a strong night for Applebey through the air either. As good as the junior quarterback's been lately it seemed as if the Oilers pressure started to get to him. He made a couple errant throws and threw interceptions as a result. He finished 6 of 10 with 42 yards and a pair of picks, though he did rush in the first touchdown -- numbers Mount Carmel Head Football Coach Michael Brewer would assuredly like to see improved as he seeks to achieve balance offensively.
As well as the Oilers had contained Hadra through three quarters, it just seemed like it was a matter of time before the dynamic back showcased his talent -- which happened early in the fourth.
Hadra finally broke one, making a few guys miss and racing to the endzone for a 52-yard rushing score. The big play's been a staple of the sophomore's highlight reel-worthy season, and this one just serves as another addition.
Mount Carmel cruised the rest of the way to victory, with their defense holding the Oilers to a combined 100 yards of offense. East Alton junior running back Brody Newberry entered the contest averaging 6.4 yards per rush -- today he was held to a meager 3.4 yard per rush line.
Maybe it was the Saturday game, perhaps the two and a half hour road game, but it wasn't the prettiest victory of the season for the Aces, who showed some uncharacteristic struggles offensively. A win's a win though and one which held significant stakes.
The victory clinched Mount Carmel's first playoff berth in the Michael Brewer era and kept the Aces unbeaten, improving to 6-0 for the first time since 2016 -- also the last time the Aces made the playoffs.
Brewer was stern with his message to his team postgame, "Don't be satisfied."
Brewer emphasized the importance of his team continuing to improve each week regardless of their record and regardless of their (since locked in) playoff standing. It's a big step, but not one you want to just be content with.
"I'm happy with where we're at, but just talking with our kids, I hope we're not satisfied," Brewer said. "Kind of an ugly performance so hopefully not satisfied with where we're at, we need to keep them hungry, we have to keep working, we have to keep getting better. We want to make the playoffs but we want to make some noise in the playoffs too, we want to win some games."
Hadra exited last week's 44-17 victory over Marquette Catholic with what appeared to be a sprained ankle. Today Hadra showed little signs of any continued symptoms with his ailing ankle, smoothly making his usual cuts and not providing any cause for concern.
"Throughout the week of practice there he was able to get some in," Brewer said. "We tried to hold him out a little more than normal and I think he felt good -- at least that's what he was telling us, he wanted to play. He did a good job today, just kind of keep an eye on him, make sure that ankle's healthy and he can be himself. He looked it early, we just needed to be more efficient as a group. He looked good."
His performance did help him eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing mark on the season, reaching 1,043 rushing yards on the year and 1,289 total yards with another strong performance. His touchdown total increased to 19 with three games remaining. Hadra's on pace to complete the season with 28 touchdowns.
Looking to maintain their undefeated mark and upward trajectory, the Aces will get back to a normal schedule, as they travel to Vincennes to take on the Alices of Vincennes Lincoln this coming Friday night.
The Alices (3-4) may appear to have an underwhelming resume record wise, but Brewer heeded caution against taking the Alices lightly. Just a year ago Vincennes Lincoln defeated Mount Carmel 54-6 on the Aces' home turf. It's a revenge game of sorts for Mount Carmel and Brewer's expecting a dogfight.
"We're going to have our work cut out for us next week," Brewer spoke of the Alices. "[Their record is] not indicative of how good that football team is, we're going to have our hands full, they have some really good football players."
"I think they very well could be the best team on our schedule. Don't pay attention to that record, they're going to be a handful.
Friday night's kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. EST, 6:30 p.m. CST.
MC -- 21 0 0 6 -- 27
EA -- 7 0 0 0 -- 7
1Q: (MC) Applebey 15-yard run (Loudermilk kick) 7-0 MC.
(MC) Hadra 11-yard run (Loudermilk kick) 14-0 MC.
(EA) Beachum 16-yard pass to Dawson (Ellis kick) 14-7 MC.
(MC) Newkirk 2-yard rush touchdown (Loudermilk kick) 21-7 MC.
4Q: (MC) Hadra 52-yard rush touchdown (run failed) 27-7 MC.