NAPERVILLE, Ill. -- Michael Banks chose to attend to Mount Carmel after graduating from grammar school because he felt it was where he had the best opportunity to win a state football championship.
His future varsity coach, Frank Lenti, had already captured nine state titles, so Banks figured he was a lock to win one during his four years.
Now a senior, Banks has yet to fulfill that dream, and on Friday, he almost saw it disappear.
With their backs against the wall, the Caravan rallied from a touchdown deficit with an 80-yard drive, tying the game with 1:11 remaining, and Banks provided the heroics in overtime with a 10-yard touchdown run as Mount Carmel pulled out a 21-14 win over Neuqua Valley in a Class 8A second-round football playoff game in Naperville.
“I’ve been on varsity since I was a sophomore, and I’ve never seen a state championship,” Banks said. “This is what I came to Carmel for. Nothing else, but to win a state championship. This is it. After this, I can never do it again. This is the world to me. This is the time. If we want to get there, we got to win. Every 48 minutes allows us to play another 48 minutes.
“You did kind of [see] it slipping away. But as a senior and a captain, I had to keep the guys composed. I had to tell them, ‘If there’s time on the clock, we can win.’ Thank God it happened.”
Trailing 14-7 in the fourth quarter, Mount Carmel’s defense forced Neuqua Valley (7-4) to punt, and the Caravan took over on their 20-yard line with 6:15 remaining. After two short runs, Mount Carmel faced a third-and-8 on its 22, and quarterback Chris Sujka connected with Jason Gasser for a 15-yard first-down pass. Later, facing another third down, Banks broke off an 11-yard run for a first down.
All together, the Caravan used 12 plays to go 80 yards, and Sujka put the finishing touches on the drive with a two-yard run with 1:11 left. After the made extra point by Nikko Rodriguez, the game was tied at 14-14.
“We told the kids there’s no reason to quit, because with our style of offense you can score two touchdowns in two plays,” said Lenti, whose team improved to 9-2. “Neuqua Valley did a nice job, but it wasn’t what they were doing, it was more of what we weren’t doing. We weren’t executing on offense, and we were stopping ourselves with foolish plays. On that last drive, we didn’t have any bad penalties and made two big third-down plays. We executed.”
In overtime, Mount Carmel was given possession first. On the opening play, Banks raced around the right corner and scored. Rodriguez again connected on the extra point, and the Caravan led 21-14.
After three unsuccessful plays, Neuqua Valley’s final pass attempt went incomplete.
Immediately, the entire Mount Carmel team raced into the end zone and celebrated its victory by lifting each other up, hugging and yelling.
“I’m still a loss for words,” Banks said. “The adrenaline is running through my body. The last play when we saw the incompletion, I was ecstatic. I can’t put it into words.”
On the other end of the field, Neuqua Valley’s players were in shock. Senior Dan Menendez stood by himself in the end zone for minutes after all of his other teammates had left the field.
“We should have won, and they shouldn’t have won,” Neuqua Valley coach Bryan Wells said. “Not because of the effort that they gave, but that game was ours. We outplayed them the whole stinking football game, and it upsets me. I’m not upset at my kids. I love those kids. This is a fantastic group, and I’m sorry this is the last time I’ll be out on the football field with them.”
Neuqua Valley’s Trent Snyder rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown. T.J. Rhattigan scored his team’s other touchdown with a 1-yard run at 11:55 of the fourth quarter.
Sujka scored Mount Carmel’s first-half touchdown with a 69-yard run.