Denny Furlong faced a big decision a year ago as he headed into his junior year at Mt. Carmel.
The multi-sport athlete was considering focusing on baseball in the fall instead of going out for the football team.
Ultimately, football pulled him in.
“Yeah, I was thinking of focusing more on baseball than football. I felt like I had a good shot in baseball,” Furlong said. “I wasn’t thinking. I made a good decision to come back and play football, for sure.”
And, the Caravan is glad he did.
Continuing a hot start to his senior season, Furlong finished with 5 catches for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns on Sept. 16 as host Mt. Carmel rolled to a convincing 42-7 victory over rival Marist in Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference (CCL/ESCC)-Blue action.
Mt. Carmel improved to 4-0, 1-0 in the Blue.
Furlong (Most Holy Redeemer) was a key offensive player last year, coming on strong late in the season, including scoring the game-winning, walk-off TD in a playoff win over Batavia.
But this year, the senior wide receiver has embraced an even bigger role on a high-flying Caravan offense that is averaging 41 points through 4 games.
“We knew something was special with him,” said Mt. Carmel Coach Jordan Lynch. “The kid is gifted with the ball in his hands. It showed tonight what he can do today and the whole season. He’s one of the most underrated kids I’ve ever been around.”
Senior quarterback Blainey Dowling (St. John Fisher) finished 16-of-22 passing for 231 yards and 4 TD. He opened the scoring finding Furlong in the back of the end zone early in the second quarter on a 4-yard dart of a pass.
The Caravan extended its lead to 14-0 when Dowling found a wide-open Furlong across the middle, and he raced 37 yards into the end zone untouched.
Junior running back Darrion Dupree added a 13-yard TD reception in the closing seconds of the first half as Mt. Carmel went up 21-0.
For Dowling, No. 7, and Furlong, No. 11, the connection goes back to childhood.
“Fans call it 7-11, we’re always open,” Dowling said with a laugh. “Me and Denny grew up together. We’ve been friends since we were 5. It’s that South Side connection we’ve got. Denny is a freak athlete. He makes plays. You’ve just got to get him the ball.”
On the first play of the second half, Furlong punctuated his big day with a 66-yard TD catch. He caught the ball near midfield and outraced the defense up the right sideline to bring Mt. Carmel to 28-0.
“Right when we make eye contact, I just know [Blainey] is going to throw it to me,” Furlong said. “Coach Lynch puts in great plays for us and helps us score even more. I was surprised I was that open [on the TDs]. We want to keep on working and getting better.”
Furlong and Dowling weren’t the only offensive stars for Mt. Carmel.
Dupree finished with 8 carries for 140 yards and 2 TD, scoring on runs of 13 and 45 yards, and 6 catches for 52 yards and a TD, a 30-yard pass from sophomore Jack Elliott.
Dupree is a highly ranked recruit in the Class of 2024 and currently has 15 offers from Division I teams.
“For me on offense, it’s being patient. It’s my offensive line,” Dupree said. “They’re key to everything. It’s making one cut, and then I’m gone. We play as a fist. We’ll be running the ball, and then we’ll throw it. We’ve surprised everyone with our passing and have been going crazy ever since.”
The Mt. Carmel offensive line includes seniors Eddie Fleck, Asher Tomaszewski, Sam Singleton and Mickey Shultz and junior Rahfeeq Katumbusi.
Mixing in a deep and short passing game, a strong run game and some freakishly talented athletes all over the field, Dowling has loved what he’s seen.
“You hit the short passes, and it goes for 5 or 7 yards. Then the defense has to respect the short-yard pass,” Dowling said. “That’s why the deep ones are open. Coach Lynch is a genius. Every week he’s got a crazy game plan. It works every week.”
While the offense piles up points, the Caravan defense has been equally impressive. Marist’s late touchdown, a Dermot Smyth to Nolan Baudo 15-yard TD pass in the fourth, was the first TD Mt. Carmel had given up all season.
In 4 games, Mt. Carmel has only allowed 10 points.
“I was a little bit disappointed giving up the TD,” said senior defensive end Danny Novickas. “As a defense, there are eight to 10 kids to the ball every time. It can be demoralizing for an offense to get hit once and then get hit with seven or eight other kids. We work on it throughout the week keeping it up-tempo. We’re always hustling and never stopping.”
Senior Damarion Arrington had an interception for the Caravan. Junior Daniel Banks added 2 tackles for loss, and junior Jamari Chaney had a fumble recovery.
“Not giving up any points at all, it’s something we talk about all the time,” Arrington said. “We’ll move on and build off of that. On the interception, the QB looked me dead in the eye, and I jumped the route. I dove for it and toe-tapped on the sideline.”
For Marist (2-2, 0-1), Smyth finished with 12-of-21 passing for 151 yards. Senior Drew Hinkes added an interception on defense.