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Updated Nov. 6, 2012 - 1:40 p.m.
It required about a 10-hour drive round trip, but the Lyons Township football team punched its ticket to the quarterfinals of the Class 8A state playoffs for a third straight season on Saturday. Traveling to O'Fallon (just outside St. Louis), the Lions defeated the host Panthers 42-27 in an offensive shootout.
The turning point of the game occurred midway through the third quarter when the Lions (7-4) posted a pair of touchdowns within 25 seconds to create some breathing room on the scoreboard at 36-14. Quarterback Zach Mahoney started the scoring spurt on a 5-yard touchdown run. After the Panthers' Kentrail Moran fumbled deep in O'Fallon territory, the Lions quickly capitalized on the scoring opportunity via a Jemari Burks' touchdown from 10 yards out to extend their lead to 36-14 with 7:12 remaining in the quarter.
O'Fallon would not go away quietly, tacking on two more touchdowns to stay within striking distance; however, the Lions' star kicker Jake Elliott nailed a pair of field goals from 45 and 26 yards to make the final score 42-27.
"I thought we played well in all three phases of the game," LT coach Kurt Weinberg said. "[Last week 34-28 win against Marist], we threw the heck out of the ball, but this game was a bit different. We ran the ball more with Zach and Leonard (Ross) and passed when we had too in certain situations."
Lyons opened the scoring on Saturday when Elliott made the first of his four field goals - from 42 yards - to give the Lions a 3-0 lead at the 8:50 mark of the first quarter. O'Fallon answered with quarterback Todd Porter's 7-yard touchdown run to go up 7-3, but Elliott struck again on a 23-yard field goal just before the close of the first quarter.
At 8:55 of the second quarter, the Lions took the lead for good on a safety. After the Panthers' ensuing free kick, Leonard Ross capped off a 7-play, 63-yard scoring drive on a 5-yard run. For good measure, the promising sophomore found the end zone on a 1-yard run to power LT to a 22-7 advantage. Per the pattern all night, the host Panthers would rally only to have LT respond with timely scoring, led by two touchdowns apiece from Mahoney and Ross along with Elliott's aforementioned four field goals.
Fueled by a five-game winning streak, the surging Lions now turn their attention to perennial powerhouse Mt. Carmel of the Chicago Catholic League Blue. LT hosts the Caravan, which knocked the Lions out of the playoffs two years ago, on Saturday at Bennett Field for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Mount Carmel (10-1), which features a plethora of weapons in Don Butkus, Jason Gasser, Matt Domer and Vince Speller, won its two opening rounds in impressive fashion by outscoring Brother Rice and Simeon, collectively 71-15.
"Obviously, Mt. Carmel is one of the best programs around," Weinberg said. "There's a reason why they always have a top program and it starts with great coaches and players. We have tremendous respect for them, but we're not afraid of them.
"We're excited about the opportunity to play them on our field. Whether it was our cheerleaders, parents, fans, we had a big crowd travel with us to O'Fallon which was amazing to see. Hopefully, our fans give us a lift on Saturday."