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Zach Mahoney is tripped up by the Panther defense in the first quarter of their second round 8A playoff game at O'Fallon . Paul Baillargeon~For Sun-Times Media
When Kurt Weinberg became the Lyons head coach in 2009, he wanted to take the football program to places it had never been before.
Reaching the state quarterfinals for the third straight season is certainly a good start, but it’s not enough anymore.
“We’re certainly happy with what we’ve done so far, but we’re not thinking about being in the quarterfinals,” Weinberg said. “We want to get past the quarterfinals. We have a chance to get farther than any other team in school history. It’s time to take the next step.”
Lyons (7-4), which won its final three regular-season games to earn a No. 15 seed in the Class 8A lower bracket, can reach the semifinals for the first time Saturday when it plays host to No. 3 Mount Carmel (10-1) at 7 p.m. at Bennett Field in Western Springs.
The Lions are no strangers to being underdogs in the postseason. They carried a No. 13 seed a year ago when they knocked off No. 4 Bartlett and No. 5 Glenbrook South before being bounced by top-seeded Loyola 33-10.
In 2010, No. 2 seed Lyons steam rolled Vocational before slipping past No. 7 Sandburg. It was third-seeded Mount Carmel that ended the Lions’ season, 41-10.
Lyons has qualified for the playoffs 10 of the last 11 years, but is anxious to take the next step.
“At the beginning of the season, Coach Weinberg talked about our program reaching our boiling point,” Lyons senior defensive end Ben Grissim said. “We had been kind of simmering after losing in the quarterfinals the last two years. He thinks this year’s team is the one that can win a state championship and we think that, too.
“(Mount Carmel is) an excellent team, but we’re not intimidated. They’re every bit as good as we are, but we think we can get the job done.”
When it comes to tradition, there are not many high school programs in the country that can boast of more success than Mount Carmel.
The Caravan, which has qualified for the playoffs 27 seasons in a row, has won 10 state championships and also has five runner-up finishes. Its last state title was in 2002 and took second in 2010, 2006 and 2005.
“They are an excellent football team,” Weinberg said. “The program has been here a zillion times, so this is old hat to them. This will be our biggest challenge of the year. We’ll get them as ready as we can and hopefully we’ll get out there and play our best. It’s a tremendous program with a lot of great football players.”
Mount Carmel, whose lone loss came to Loyola 30-27 in overtime Sept. 28, has dominated on both sides of the ball. The offense is averaging 39.4 points a game, while the defense is allowing just 7.2 points, including five shutouts.
The Caravan’s run-oriented offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Don Butkus, running backs Matt Domer (1,014 yards) and Draco Smith (507 yards), who is also a starting defensive back, and linemen Nick Drexler, Brian Parker and Juan Beltran.
Weinberg believes his team is as healthy as it’s been all season.
During its 2-4 start, Northwestern recruit and senior standout wide receiver and defensive back Matthew Harris missed three games with a chest injury and senior quarterback Zach Mahoney sat one game with an injury.
“We never changed our overall goal, other than we had to be more focused on the here and now,” Weinberg said. “The talent is still here and was at that time. Our goal never wavered.”