First down: Loyola’s defense has been downright dominate since the playoffs started. The Ramblers might have been at their best Saturday in their 24-0 win over Huntley on the road. The Red Raiders came into the Class 8A quarterfinal matchup on a five-game winning streak and averaging 37.4 points during that stretch. But Loyola sacked junior quarterback Eric Mooney 10 times, limited Huntley’s offense to 221 yards and forced three turnovers. “We have been playing with a chip on our shoulders,” said Loyola senior linebacker Mickey Kane (No. 49 in picture above), who had three sacks and recovered a fumble Saturday. “We’ve been accustomed to the offense carrying the team, but we’ve flipped the script. The guys have really stepped up, and we are showing what we can do as a unit. We’ve shut down a lot of good, dynamic athletes during the playoffs.” Since surrendering 14 points in the first quarter to O’Fallon in the first round, Loyola has allowed three points over the last 11 quarters and come up with seven takeaways in three playoff games. “We’ve been trending in the right direction,” said the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Kane, who leads the team with 12.5 sacks. “We struggled a bit early in the year, but we are coming into our own.” Junior Marty Geary (No. 97 in picture above) agreed with Kane’s assessment. “Every day it gets more intense,” the 6-2, 250-pound defensive lineman said. “I don’t think we knew how good we could be at the beginning of the season, but we are putting it all together.”

Second down: Senior running back Kyle Rock is working harder than ever on game days with junior running back Hamid Bullie sidelined with a torn ACL in his right knee. Before Bullie’s season-ending injury in Week 9, the two shared carries in the backfield. During the regular season, the 5-10, 175-pound Rock averaged 11.4 attempts a game. In three playoff games, he’s averaging 19.0 carries. The increased load isn’t slowing him down. He’s averaging 111.7 yards and has scored five touchdowns in the postseason. On Saturday, Rock rushed 19 times for 192 yards and scored two TDs, including a 75-yard score on the first play of the second half. “We’ve been working on increasing my stamina in practice by doing more conditioning, me running more plays,” Rock said. “I feel good. I’ve talked to the offensive line about protecting me as much as possible. When they do their job, I can walk through the holes.”

Third down: Uncertainty surrounds the Loyola quarterback position after the Ramblers were down to their third-stringer against Huntley. Loyola head coach Holecek told reporters Saturday that senior starter Tommy Herion will go through concussion protocol this week, and his status is to be determined. There is hope that junior backup Quinn Boyle will be back in uniform after sitting out Saturday with an illness. To be safe, Holecek said senior receiver Jake Marwede, who takes snaps as a Wildcat quarterback, will get more throwing reps this week. The Duke recruit finished 2-for-3 for 36 yards and threw one interception against Huntley. But junior Andrew Forsyth is an option going forward. He turned in an impressive performance under center over the final two-plus quarters to help the Ramblers beat the Red Raiders. He went 6-for-11 for 62 yards and didn’t turn over the ball. “Hopefully, we get both our quarterbacks back, but we got tremendous productivity [Saturday] with both of them out,” Holecek said.

Fourth down: As the 20th seed, Glenbard West (10-2) advanced to the state semifinals for the fifth season in a row and seventh time in nine years after the Hilltoppers beat Edwardsville 38-21 on the road Saturday. The defending Class 7A state champions trailed 14-10 in the second quarter but rallied to return to a state final for the second consecutive season. According to the Edwardsville Intelligencer, Glenbard West totaled 442 yards and didn’t punt. Senior quarterback Cole Brady finished 14-for-19 for 273 yards. Junior receiver Alec Pierce caught five balls for 145 yards, and junior running back Ryan Diver ran 12 times for 57 yards. This will be the first time that Glenbard West and Loyola have met in the postseason. It’s only the second time in Chad Hetlet’s 10 seasons that the Hilltoppers have been in Class 8A. Saturday’s game in Glen Ellyn is set for 1 p.m.

Photo credit: Geoff Scott