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'We know we're in it together'

Marist coach Pat Dunne knows as well anyone the significance of the RedHawks' trip to the Class 8A state championship game.

Dunne played for Marist in the late 1990s. He was a junior wide receiver/defensive back on a team that reached the second round of the playoffs in 1996. Marist finished 4-5 his senior season, one during which he moved to kicker/punter due to an injury.

Dunne returned to his alma mater last season to take over as the varsity coach. After reaching the playoffs in his first season, the RedHawks have advanced to the state championship game for the first time since 1986.

Scott Powers: Does having played here add to this experience?

Pat Dunne: Being an alum and that my brother went here, and a lot of my friends went here, it's a great time to be here. It makes me proud to have graduated from here.

SP: The program hadn't won nine games since 1996 when you took over. What needed to change when you arrived?

PD: The building blocks were one, the kids, and, two, the coaching staff. Our kids work extremely hard. Our coaching staff works extremely hard. It's all come from effort. We're all working toward the same thing. We know we're in it together.

SP: Was a change in mentality needed?

PD: One thing is I think these kids are extremely, extremely hard workers. They're highly motivated and self-motivated kids. It's something we stressed to the guys. 'Here is what we have to do,' and they did it.

SP: Did you think this team had this potential?

PD: Absolutely. Just by how hard they work and the positive attitudes they bring every day. I believe so much in these guys.

SP: Did you bring in a certain philosophy to the program?

PD: I think the one thing overall in our program was just having a positive environment and working extremely hard to get what we wanted to get. We had to know what we can control.

SP: Are you surprised to be doing this in your second season?

PD: I'm proud to be a part of this with everyone. It's such a team effort. We still have a big game ahead of us. We're still focused on Saturday night.

SP: What do you know about Maine South?

PD: They're an unbelievable team. They don't have a weakness at all. Their offense is tremendous. Their defense is tremendous. Their special teams is tremendous. They have great players, and they're very well-coached.

SP: Is there a key to the game?

PD: We're focusing on what we can control, focusing on our effort.

SP: A lot of attention goes to your offense, but your defense came up big in the semifinal win over Glenbard North.

PD: A lot of people do talk about the offense, but our defense has done a great job all year-round. The last few weeks the defense has been keeping us in there and has done a tremendous job.

SP: What's impressed you about quarterback Mike Perish during the playoffs?

PD: He's a kid who is just a highly unbelievable competitor. He's just a winner. He's never complacent. He puts everything out on the line every rep. He's always trying to get better. He's just a tremendous leader, and it shows in everything he's done in the last two years.

SP: What's his potential in college?

PD: From my end, I believe he's the best, without a doubt. He's the best. His upside is unreal. That's what's scary. I don't think he's reached his potential yet. I can't say enough about him. The best thing is he's a better person.

SP: What was Saturday's semifinal win like for you?

PD: It was just great to be a part of. The thing is Saturday night was just a complete team effort. The offense responded. The defense stepped up and the special teams came through. That's what makes me so proud of them -- to see all three phases come together.

SP: Was it nerve-wracking with the game being so close?

PD: My belief in these guys and going through 13 weeks with them, I never lost faith in them.

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at preps@espnchicago.com.