Bears

Lenti, Mount Carmel bring home another title

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Lenti, Mount Carmel bring home another title

By Mike Clark
Season Pass

CHAMPAIGN The question all week long was, would Don Butkus play quarterback for Mount Carmel in the Class 8A state championship game?

The answer: Yes, and very effectively.

Butkus ran 35 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and later threw a seven-yard touchdown pass as the Caravan beat Glenbard North 28-14 Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.

Justin Sanchez had three interceptions to lead a Mount Carmel defense that did not allow a score until there were under four minutes left.

Mount Carmel (13-1) won its 11th title overall and its first since 2002. Coach Frank Lenti has led the Caravan to its last 10 championships, tying now-retired Matt Senffner of Providence for the

state record.

Ive never felt this happy in my entire life, Butkus said. Its an insane feeling.

I dreamed about this ever since I came to Carmel as a freshman. I always wanted to be a state champion.

Butkus had left Mount Carmels semifinal win over Neuqua Valley after suffering a left ankle injury on an unsuccessful two-point conversion try in the closing minutes. The senior, a two-year starter and three-year varsity player, was held out of practice early last week. He only practiced one day in pads all week.

Our trainers did a great job, Butkus said.

Lenti gave some of the credit to his quarterback, with a nod to his famous great-uncle, Bears great Dick Butkus: I think he is fitting of the name Butkus.

Any doubt about his status was erased when Butkus led the Caravan onto the field for pregame warmups, running without seeming to favor the ankle.

He ran 12 times for 50 yards as the Caravan rushed for 256 yards. Draco Smith ran seven times for 129 yards, while Matt Domer added 79 on 13 carries. Butkus completed 2-of-5 passes for 34 yards with one interception.

Butkus night got off to a rough start when two-way star Justin Jackson of Glenbard North (12-2) stepped in front of one of his passes and ran it back 76 yards for a touchdown with 9:53 left in the second quarter.

After that, it was all Mount Carmel.

On the Caravans first offensive play after the kickoff, Smith raced 78 yards down the right sideline for the tying score.

A 34-yard burst by Domer set up Butkus touchdown run a simple quarterback sneak that he turned into a long gainer with 1:20 left in the first half.

Butkus scoring pass to an open Jason Gasser in the middle of the end zone made it 21-7.

Smith added his second score on a 25-yard run with 10:31 left in the game.

Mount Carmels defense didnt allow a score until Brian Murphy hit Ryan Storto with a six-yard touchdown pass with 3:44 remaining.

The Caravan limited Jackson to 63 yards on 28 carries. Murphy ran 16 times for 46 yards and was 9-of-25 passing for 168 yards with four interceptions.

After Connor Barth's crunch-time miss, will Bears move on from veteran kicker?

After Connor Barth's crunch-time miss, will Bears move on from veteran kicker?

Sometimes the kick just doesn’t go through the uprights.

But that’s likely not going to be a satisfying conclusion for seething Bears fans.

Connor Barth’s latest bout of inaccuracy was in too high-leverage a moment for anyone to excuse, the Bears’ kicker pushing a game-tying field-goal try wide, wide right in the waning seconds of Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the visiting Detroit Lions.

The miss stung, no doubt about it, especially after Mitch Trubisky led the offense down the field on an impressive two-minute drill that featured the rookie quarterback converting a fourth and 13 with a weaving scramble that is sure to be on No. 10’s highlight reel for years to come. With the youngster putting his team in position to advance to overtime, it was up to the veteran leg — and the veteran leg missed. Bears lose.

Barth, to his credit, had the right attitude after the game, explaining that sometimes you just don’t make the kick. Not everyone can be Adam Vinatieri, right?

“I think I hit the ground a little bit and didn’t make good contact. Tough one,” Barth said. “You never want to miss. I’ve been a positive guy. This one kick’s not going to define me.

“It’s a team game. Everyone makes mistakes. Of course I want that one back, but at the end of the day, it happened. You move on. I’ll take it, it’s on me.”

But here’s the thing. This is far from the first time this has happened.

In his second season with the Bears, Barth has missed 10 field-goal tries in 26 games. He’s 11-for-16 so far in 2017 after going 18-for-23 a year ago.

Add to that the way in which Barth got the job in the first place — benefitting from the ouster of longtime kicker Robbie Gould — and a large number of fans have always seemed ready to run Barth out of town on a rail.

It’s important to note to those sharpening their pitchforks, however, that Gould matched a career worst with six missed kicks in 2015, his last year with the Bears. Since leaving the Bears, Gould has made 29 of his 31 field-goal attempts with the New York Giants (2016) and San Francisco 49ers (2017).

But fans pining for a return to those Gould-en days aren’t the only ones who have put the heat on Barth in recent weeks. Andy Phillips, a kicker the Bears had in training camp, sent out a eye-popping tweet after Barth missed a field-goal try in last month’s loss to the New Orleans Saints.

So now more than ever — with Barth’s his field-goal percentage dropping lower thanks to a critical missed kick — the question looms: Is this it for Barth in a Bears uniform?

Head coach John Fox didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement of his kicker following Sunday’s defeat.

“It’s like everything. We are a production-based business. That’s what we get paid to do, whether it is winning games as a head coach or whether it’s making kicks as a kicker. We will evaluate it,” Fox said. “Like I said, every time we go out there, we will do everything we can to put the best team we can out there.”

Of course, it’s easy to rush to judgments when an athlete screws up with the game on the line. The situation magnifies the mistake, whether it be a closer blowing a save, a free-throw shooter coming up empty at the foul line or a kicker missing a potential game-tying field goal with eight seconds left on the clock.

But for Barth, the more worrying part of this whole thing is the trend. Ten missed kicks in 26 games.

Missing might be part of the job, and fans should understand that. But miss a lot, and there might be no more job at all.

“That’s just the way it is. I signed up for this,” Barth said. “You’re going to make some, going to miss some. That’s the way it goes.”

Promising start turns ugly as Bears drop another one to an NFC North rival

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USA TODAY

Promising start turns ugly as Bears drop another one to an NFC North rival

Oh, it all started so promising.

The Bears looked like a well-oiled machine early Sunday, looking like the kind of team bouncing back from a gut-wrenching loss to the Green Bay Packers a week prior. But with another NFC North rival in town, this time the Detroit Lions, things turned ugly in a hurry — and the result ended up the same.

The Bears lost for the seventh time in 10 games this season, falling to the Lions by a 27-24 score on the shores of Lake Michigan.

An offense that has struggled to put points on the board much of the year — and couldn’t match a Packers offense led by backup quarterback Brett Hundley last weekend — started strong, with three scoring drives in its first four possessions. Mitch Trubisky led scoring drives of 70, 55 and 73 yards, producing 17 points and had the Bears ahead by 10 midway through the second quarter.

The lone Lions points came after a rare miscue by the offense in the opening 20-plus minutes when Trubisky fumbled a snap, only for D.J. Hayden to run it back 27 yards for a touchdown. But still, the Bears looked the superior team on both sides of the ball.

It was then, though, that Matt Stafford flipped a switch and started picking apart the Bears’ defense. Backed up at his own nine-yard line after an offensive pass-interference penalty, Stafford marched the Lions down the field, rattling off completions of 17, 40 and 28 yards, the last a touchdown pass that took advantage of a badly burned Marcus Cooper.

Stafford then led a 73-yard touchdown drive, once again picking apart the Bears’ secondary and giving his Lions a lead right before the half, a sudden turn of events considering the Bears had a double-digit lead not long before.

After an uneventful third quarter, the Bears tied the game with five minutes remaining on a stellar touchdown run by Tarik Cohen. But Stafford marched the Lions right down the field immediately afterward, and the Lions cashed in with a 52-yard go-ahead field goal.

Trubisky led the Bears downfield and put them in position for a game-tying field goal, but Connor Barth’s attempt was way off the mark, sending the Bears to another upsetting defeat.

Tarik Cohen gets back in the game

After earning much social-media scorn the last few weeks, the Bears’ coaching staff brought Tarik Cohen back with a vengeance.

The rookie running back proved himself a dangerous offensive weapon early in the season, but he had been largely absent for weeks, combining for just five rushing attempts and three receptions in the previous three games against the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and aforementioned Packers.

Well, the Bears’ coaches must have heard all that criticism and heavily involved Cohen, who finished with nine rushes for 44 yards and four catches for 15 yards. He was targeted a total of six times.

And Cohen came up with a huge play late in the game, taking a shovel pitch from Trubisky, running to the pylon and flipping his way into the end zone, extending the ball in midair to make sure it was a touchdown. That score tied the game at 24 with five minutes left.

Banged-up Bears

The Bears’ defense — already well bothered with injuries — added a couple more to the list Sunday.

None seemed more significant than the one to Leonard Floyd, who was taken off the field on a cart in the fourth quarter after Kyle Fuller crashed into Floyd’s right knee. Floyd spent a good deal of time on the ground before the cart came out.

Fuller suffered a wrist injury on the same play, with TV cameras catching the sight of an awful lot of blood.

At various points, defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman left the field with members of the training staff. And on the offensive side, wide receiver Josh Bellamy was announced as being in the concussion protocol after a play in the third quarter.