MONTICELLO — Mt. Carmel High School is close to residing in a different state.
The building is Wabash County is a short walk away from the Wabash River, which runs down the Illinois-Indiana southeast border.
And yet, when Monticello football visits the Golden Aces’ facility later this week, it’ll constitute just the third-longest one-way trip that coach Cully Welter and his Sages have taken for a playoff game during the last four years.
“We went to Benton. We went to DuQuoin a few years ago. ... It’s part of the fun,” Welter said. “It’s a place we’ve never been. They’ve got an iconic stadium, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Twelfth-seeded Monticello (5-4) will attempt to knock off fifth-seeded Mt. Carmel (8-1), beginning with a 2:30 p.m. Saturday kickoff in the Class 3A postseason’s first round.
It would make the approximately 310-mile round trip a bit more palatable for the Sages, who have seen their previous two lengthy playoff road trips end in disappointment.
In 2019, Monticello suffered a 28-25 loss to DuQuoin in the first round of the 3A playoffs, a result that centered a drive of roughly 366 miles round-trip.
This edged out last fall’s second-round loss to Benton, with the Sages losing the 3A playoff game 42-12 at the Rangers’ field as the middle point of a 346-mile trek.
Welter, who has led Monticello football to 13 postseason bids and one Class 3A state championship since becoming the Sages’ coach in 2009, is familiar with how to help his athletes work through an arduous bus ride that precedes an important game.
“You find a halfway point. We’re going to stop in Newton (on Saturday),” Welter said. “We’ve talked to Coach (Jason) Fulton. He’s going to let us stretch our legs on the field and have a snack, run around a little bit and get the drive out of our legs.”
The Sages are on a two-game skid entering the playoffs, including a 28-0 shutout at the hands of Unity last Friday night. The Golden Aces are coming off their lone regular-season defeat, a 34-33 overtime decision at home versus Mt. Vernon.
“They’ve got a lot of team speed, a lot of athleticism. It’s a perennially strong program,” Welter said. “They run the ball well on offense, and they’re athletic on defense.”
Welter didn’t wish to single out any of his players who he feels need to step up in order for Monticello to fend off Mt. Carmel, which advanced to last year’s Class 3A semifinals before losing at Unity.
“We’re going to have to be able to be balanced on offense as much as possible,” Welter said. “Their running game is very good. Their quarterback does a lot. ... We’re going to have to get a lot of people to the point of attack.”
Golden Aces junior quarterback Blayne Sisson earlier this month was named the Chicago Bears’ High School All-Star for Week 8 of the regular season.
Sisson was recognized for finishing 12 of 12 passing in a 62-38 win against Marian Central Catholic, accumulating 305 yards and four touchdowns through the air. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound athlete also rushed for 157 yards and four touchdowns in the nonconference home win.
The Sages’ offense, meanwhile, offers sufficient misdirection and trickery to allow prosperity for individuals such as senior quarterback Drew Sheppard, senior running back Tylor Bundy and junior receiver/rusher Luke Teschke.
Despite last week’s shutout, Monticello is averaging 30.3 points entering Saturday’s game.
“You assume the team you’re playing against is going to scout you well,” Welter said. “The unfamiliarity can allow you to do some things more effectively than against a team who you see every year.”
Any Sages fans who make the drive down to Mt. Carmel also should be prepared for an odd sight at the Golden Aces’ field.
Riverview Stadium is known as “The Snake Pit,” and its playing surface rests at the base of a large hill on which the school sits. The home spectator seating arrangement runs down that hill in two extremely tall rows, collectively spanning about 25 yards in width at the center of the field.
“It’s completely unique,” Welter said.