Joliet Catholic pulls off stunner over Carmel

JOLIET, Ill. -- For Joliet Catholic senior Malin Jones to say teammate Ty Isaac’s 75-yard game-winning touchdown with 35.3 seconds left to defeat Carmel, 32-31, on Friday was the greatest play he ever witnessed carries some weight.

For Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp to make the same remark with 34 years of coaching experience, you understand just how grand it actually was.

Trailing 31-25 in the game’s final minute, Isaac ran a fade route, had to slow down to catch the ball over his right shoulder, avoided Carmel’s defensive back and tiptoed around the sideline, then gathered himself and sprinted the remaining 50 yards for the touchdown.

Isaac Grashoff connected on the extra point, and No. 11 Joliet Catholic defeated visiting No. 8 Carmel in the East Suburban Catholic season opener.

“Honest to God, my heart jumped out of my chest,” Sharp said of Isaac’s heroics. “It was one of the most exciting moments I’ve had in my professional career in 34 years coaching.”

Isaac had no trouble labeling the catch his greatest high school football moment.

“You can’t even explain it,” Isaac said. “It’s the best feeling getting the game-winning touchdown. Ah … overwhelmed.”

Isaac’s touchdown reception was only a percentage of the drama that occurred during the second half.

The third quarter began with Joliet Catholic scoring two quick touchdowns and building a 25-10 lead. Carmel wasn’t going away, though. The Corsairs scored a touchdown on a 17-yard run by Michael Panico in the third quarter to pull within 25-17.

The Hilltoppers held that eight-point advantage until Carmel’s offense answered again with a five-yard touchdown run by Jordan Kos with 4:28 remaining in the game. Carmel failed on its two-point conversion attempt, and Joliet Catholic led 25-23.

Carmel’s defense held Joliet Catholic on three consecutive plays and forced it to punt. The Corsairs took from their 26-yard line with 2:55 remaining. After moving the ball forward 18 yards, Panico provided the game’s first dramatic play by breaking a 56-yard touchdown run with one minute remaining. Carmel quarterback Brian Brennan ran the ball in for the two-point conversion, and the Corsairs led 31-25.

Minutes later, the tables would turn.

After the game, Sharp and Carmel coach Andy Bitto walked across to each other and embraced in a hug.

“As soon as the game ended, I thought of Andy,” Sharp said. “I know how that feels. He’s a great friend.”

Bitto would have loved to win the game, but he took the positives from it.

“I’m proud of our kids,” Bitto said. “We could have folded it in the third quarter; we came back. We could have folded it in the two-minute drills, and we score. It just wasn’t to be.”

Isaac finished with 221 yards on 17 carries. He rushed for touchdowns of 46 and 70 yards. Of course, he also had a 75-yard touchdown reception.

“I think Isaac might be the best back in the state,” Bitto said. “We couldn’t stop that kid.”

It was the third consecutive year a Carmel-Joliet Catholic contest came down to three points or less. Joliet Catholic won 19-16 in 2009. Carmel won 31-28 last season.

“It’s great to come out with a winning record against Carmel,” said Jones, who faced Carmel three times in his varsity career. “They’re just an amazing team. Their defense is crazy. They’re hard hitters. They’re not the biggest team, but they all play like they’re on a college team.”

Grashoff connected on two 36-yard field goals for Joliet Catholic. Jones also scored a touchdown for the Hilltoppers.

Carmel’s Steven O’Block made a 47-yard field goal in the first half.