First down: There are good reasons why senior Anthony Romano was named as one of Loyola’s four captains. Not only is he a leader off the field, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound middle linebacker makes big plays between the lines. He came up huge in Saturday’s 42-14 win over O’Fallon in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs. With the game tied 14-all, Romano intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown at the 9:52 mark of the second quarter. The Ramblers never trailed again. In Loyola’s 48-37 win over Brother Rice on Oct. 21 that gave the Ramblers the Catholic Blue championship, Romano broke up a pass on third-and-7 late in the fourth quarter that led to a turnover on downs. Loyola took advantage of the short field and scored the game-clinching TD. “He’s a gamer,” Loyola head coach John Holecek said. “He comes ready and with a great attitude that he’s going to hit you first. He’s great at figuring out offensive schemes.”

Second down: Holecek hinted to reporters after the game that the Class 8A defending state champion and top-seeded Ramblers might have overlooked No. 32-seeded O’Fallon, which brought a 5-4 record into Saturday’s game. Nine minutes into the game, the Panthers had a 14-0 lead. “We tried to warm them,” Holecek told Pioneer Press. “[O’Fallon] is a good team, they have a lot of weapons, the quarterback has great talent, they fly around the field on defense. It’s a good football team. But sometimes kids are kids. I think our concentration and energy were down.” It’s unclear whether Brother Rice got caught looking ahead in its 45-42 loss to Fremd at home in the first round. But the Crusaders, one of the best teams all season, had been talking about a possible rematch with Loyola in the quarterfinals before the playoffs even started. Holecek said Monday the Ramblers should have no trouble taking 16th-seeded Oswego East (9-1) seriously. “All you have to do is look at a little film,” Holecek said. “They have great talent. It’s unbelievable. You can’t take this team lightly. I mean, every team is vulnerable, so we have to be ready from the start.”

Third down: Loyola’s fears about Hamid Bullie’s status were confirmed before Saturday’s game. The junior running back suffered a serious injury to his right knee in the final game of the regular season and is done for the season, according to Holecek. At the time of his injury, Bullie was the leading rusher in Loyola’s two-back system, and he no doubt was missed Saturday against O’Fallon and will be missed for as long as the Ramblers remain in the playoffs. But Holecek said the offense won’t change in his absence. The difference will be senior running back Kyle Rock (pictured above) likely will get more carries in a game. On Saturday, Rock ran 20 times for 69 yards and scored three TDs. “Rock is very talented,” Holecek said. “He will be the main guy going forward.” Seniors Tomas Henning and Chris Novo each got four carries Saturday. Henning scored the game-tying TD on 1-yard run early in the second quarter. “We moved Henning to linebacker after he played running back last year, so we know he can do some good things back there,” Holecek said. “Novo looked good, quick. We have some options there.” In his first varsity season, Bullie ran the ball 88 times for 610 yards and scored seven TDs. Rock enters the second round with 701 yards on 123 carries and has scored a team-high 15 TDs.

Fourth down: Loyola scored at least 42 points for the fourth consecutive game. The Ramblers were balanced again on offense, rushing for 141 yards and passing for 302. They averaged 6.3 yards per play. Senior quarterback Tommy Herion went 20-for-28 for 283 yards and threw one TD, a 14-yarder to senior receiver David Terrell Jr. He also threw his first interception of the season. Herion ran the ball seven times for 37 yards. Terrell Jr. caught eight passes for 121 yards, while senior receiver Jake Marwede had four receptions for 53 yards. The defense forced two turnovers, but none bigger than Romano’s interception in the second quarter. The Ramblers held O’Fallon running back Mason Hewitt to 64 yards on 25 carries and kept him out of the end zone. Hewitt came into the postseason with 1,681 yards and 11 TDs on the ground. Holecek said he would have liked to see the Ramblers play better in the secondary. O’Fallon quarterback Christian Perez threw for 257 yards and one TD. Receiver Ronald Anthony caught eight passes for 112 yards and one TD. “We made a few mistakes defensively, and our pass defense was not great at the beginning of the game,” Holecek said. “But we got better as the game went on.”

Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola