First down: At the midpoint of the regular season, Loyola has proved it deserves the top billing in all the major rankings, which include the statewide Associated Press Class 8A poll, the Chicago Tribune Top 20 and Chicago Sun-Times Super 25. It’s not easy being a defending state champion, but the Ramblers have showed so far they can handle the bullseye on their backs. After surviving a scare against Maine South in Week 2 and holding off Mount Carmel on the road in Week 3, Loyola routed an undefeated Fenwick team at Triton College in River Grove on Friday. In the postgame huddle, Loyola head coach John Holecek made sure his players knew they had defeated a good team in the Friars, who had beaten two 2015 state champions in their first three games. In the next breath, he told the Ramblers the season is far from over. “It was our best game, yes,” Holecek said. “But we still have a lot to improve on.”

Second down: The Ramblers are one of two state champions from last season who are undefeated through five games. Class 2A champion Tri-Valley, of Downs, also is 5-0. The Vikings haven’t been tested yet, winning their five games by a combined 208-15. Glenbard West, the Class 7A winner in 2015, lost its first game of the season Saturday, falling to Lyons 28-14 at home. Class 3A state champ Bishop McNamara won its first game of the season Friday with its 46-14 victory over Leo. Montini, the Class 6A defending state champion, might be the biggest surprise of the season. At 2-3, the Broncos are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1992. They have won five state titles since 2009.

Third down: Loyola has had a great run of receivers in recent seasons. Players like Charlie Dowdle, Marquese Martin-Hayes, Owen Buscaglia, Joe Joyce, Thomas Smart and Jonah Isaac have helped establish the Ramblers as an offensive juggernaut. This year is no different as the Ramblers are averaging 44.4 points a game and have scored at least 52 in their last two. After Friday’s win over Fenwick, Holecek called seniors Jack Martinus (pictured above), Jake Marwede, Jack Moran and David Terrell Jr. “studs.” Terrell Jr. finished with six catches for 92 yards, Marwede had five catches for 80 yards and one touchdown and Martinus set personal bests with six catches for 66 yards and one touchdown. For the season, Terrell Jr. leads the team in receptions (16), receiving yards (335) and receiving TDs (4). Moran is second in catches with 14, while Marwede has caught 13 balls for 223 yards and three TDs. Martinus has 11 catches for 143 yards and one TD. “I see a lot of similarities between our receivers this year and ours from last year,” said senior defensive back Jack Walker. “We have speed and size, and that makes it difficult for defenses.”

Fourth down: The Catholic Blue picture will come into clearer focus after this weekend’s slate of the games. Defending league champion Loyola hosts St. Rita on Saturday, and Brother Rice hosts Mount Carmel on Friday. The Mustangs moved to 2-0 in the conference after their 31-28 win over Mount Carmel on Friday. If the Ramblers and Crusaders keep winning, they will meet in Week 9 in Chicago for the conference championship. The last time Loyola went to Brother Rice in 2014 the Ramblers lost to the Crusaders 16-13.

Photo credit: Melissa/Krein