First down: After Loyola offensive coordinator Tyler Vradenburg learned the Ramblers would play Huntley in the Class 8A quarterfinals, he immediately asked where the school is located. For the second week in a row, the top-seeded Ramblers square off against a relatively new football program. Huntley, which plays in the Fox Valley Conference, is west of Wilmette by almost 50 miles. While the 24th-seeded Red Raiders aren’t as young as Oswego East, which started varsity football in 2005, they aren’t old, either. Huntley got its program going in 1994, which is nearly 90 years after Loyola played its first season. This is Huntley’s third season in Class 8A. Under head coach John Hart, the Red Raiders qualified for the playoffs the last two seasons, finishing 10-1 a year ago. But he’s gone, and Matt Zimolzak is in his place. Zimolzak has Huntley 8-3 and in the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2001 when the Red Raiders advanced to the Class 4A semifinals.
Second down: Vradenburg commented last week on how far the Ramblers have come since he arrived at Loyola in 2003. Hired by John Hoerster, Vradenburg never got to coach under the legend following Hoerster’s sudden death August 25 of that year. Vradenburg spent three seasons as an assistant on Carl Favaro’s staff. The Ramblers were 22-15 during that time, losing in the second round of the state playoffs in each of those three seasons. Loyola won the Prep Bowl in 2003. “Back then, playing at Soldier Field and winning the Prep Bowl was a big deal for us,” said Vradenburg, who grew up in New Jersey. “Having 10-win seasons were not that common. We have come a long way.”
Third down: Oswego East gained 294 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per play against Loyola, but the Wolves were shut out of the end zone. Their only points came on a 42-yard field goal by Chase Bruns in the second quarter. Oswego East head coach Tyson LeBlanc summed up his team’s shortcomings simply. “When you get into the red zone against teams like this, you have to get touchdowns,” he told the Aurora Beacon-News. “That’s the difference in the game.” Oswego East had two first-and-goals from 5-yard line and got as far as Loyola’s 31 on five drives. While Loyola’s lone shutout was a 55-0 win in Week 4 against St. Francis, the Ramblers kept a third opponent out of the end zone this season. Like Oswego East, Loyola limited St. Rita to one field goal in a 35-3 win in Week 6. Loyola once again won the turnover battle, forcing two against the Wolves. It was the third consecutive game the Ramblers finished with two or more takeaways.
Fourth down: Hamid Bullie, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 9’s 48-37 win over Brother Rice, watched Saturday’s game from the sideline on crutches and in street clothes. The junior running back said he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee and will have surgery Nov. 18. Despite his status, Bullie was upbeat after Loyola’s 22-3 win over Oswego East. “I want to be around for the guys,” he said. “I want to let them know I’m fine. Being at practices and games is the best thing for me, too.” Bullie said he hasn’t started any meaningful physical therapy, but he’s been doing stretching exercises on his own in advance of his operation. Senior quarterback Tommy Herion (pictured above) is one player whose carries have increased in Bullie’s absence. In Loyola’s first nine games, he rushed 33 times for 136 yards. In two playoff games, Herion has 16 carries for 93 yards, including running for 51 yards on nine carries Saturday.