Loyola and Maine South will play for the Class 8A state championship Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. It will be the first time the two programs have met in a state final. But the Ramblers and Hawks have had a colorful postseason history, dating back to 2008. Maine South ended Loyola’s season in the state playoffs in 2008, 2009 and 2010 on its way to three state Class 8A state titles. The Ramblers cleared the Hawks’ hurdle in 2013 and advanced to the Class 8A state final, ultimately finishing as runner-ups. In six postseason games, each team has won three times.
Maroon & Gold talked to several people who have been intimately involved in this rivalry over the years.
WILLY PAVILOS (Running back, Class of 2012) — This is the Illinois high school football rivalry. Mount Carmel is obviously always a big game for us, but I think there is more mutual respect between the two programs. The Maine South-Loyola rivalry is fueled on mutual hate for each other. It is what makes this game such a big deal every time the stars align.
In 2008, Loyola played Maine South in the Class 8A second round, losing 26-7 in Park Ridge. Little did anybody know what would transpire over the following two seasons.
PAT MAHONEY (Athletic Director) — I remember thinking these are the big boys, and it was going to be a growing experience for us.
JOHN HOLECEK (Head Coach) — That first game, they were so unbelievably talented.
WILL FORSYTH (Quarterback, Class 2010) — There was a buzz, but there wasn’t a buzz on a state level. If you’re from the area, this game mattered. I only played special teams that year. I knew people from Park Ridge at Loyola who hated Maine South. They had an ego.
In 2009, Loyola advanced to the Class 8A semifinals for the first time since Holecek took over in 2006, losing a hard-fought game to the Hawks 21-14 in Park Ridge. The Ramblers’ defense was the star of the season, entering the semifinal matchup surrendering 6.9 points a game. Loyola took a 14-7 lead in the first half on senior quarterback Will Forsyth’s 71-yard touchdown run. Even though the Ramblers held Maine South senior running back and Class 8A all-state selection Matt Perez to 63 yards and knocked him out of the game in the fourth quarter, they couldn’t pull out the win.
FORSYTH — This game had the feel of a state championship game. We beat Mount Carmel in the quarterfinals at Gately Stadium. It was the second time we beat them that season. There was a lot of excitement going into the semifinal game at Maine South. Practices were fun that week. The Loyola community was excited.
HOLECEK — Our defense that year was great. We beat them up, but we were not the complete team we are now.
MAHONEY — For the first time in a while, we were a serious player in the state. I remember our defense was so good. It was an unbelievably physical and hard-hitting game. We held [Maine South senior running back] Matt Perez in check. It was a winnable game, but our offense hadn’t really evolved yet. Of all the teams we’ve had since I’ve been around, that was our best defense. But Maine South was the team that knew how to win those games.
FORSYTH — Our defense got us there. I feel like we had 11 Division I players. It was a special group. Our offense had some injuries, but it wasn’t the potent offense you see from Loyola teams now. It was a great game, but we made some mistakes that served as a roadblock to the win. I still have people tell me it was one of the best high school games they’ve ever seen. Even though we lost, I think that game got us back to being an elite team.
In 2010, Loyola and Maine South met again in the Class 8A semifinals, with the Hawks rallying for a 29-22 win in Wilmette. Maine South trailed by nine with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Hawks scored two touchdowns in nine seconds to complete the unlikely comeback.
HOLECEK — When they celebrated on our field, running that Maine South flag by our bench, that was the minute the rivalry started for me. They showed no humility.
MAHONEY — We were the team to beat that season. I think it was the first time our kids thought they expected to be here. We finally had that Maine South attitude. I saw it in our guys. The place was a zoo, crazy. It was an unbelievable environment. None of us had any experience with it. We were leading late, and I thought we might win this game and go to the state finals. Then they had those two touchdowns, bang, bang. It was wild. It was foggy how quickly it all happened. The whole day was tainted by all the drama that happened when their fans came onto the field before the game ended. It was ugly. There was a lot of animosity about what went down.
FORSYTH — I was a freshman in college, and I watched that game on my computer. I still knew guys on that team. It was one of the more painful games I’ve ever seen. I can’t say much more than that.
ROB DOOLEY (Safety, Class of 2012) — I was lucky enough to be called up for the playoffs as a sophomore during the 2009 playoff run. The 2010 game was a heartbreaker.
DAN KEARNS (Cornerback, Class of 2007) — I attended all three of those playoff games from 2008-10. I vividly remember the pain that went with losing a playoff game, and the excruciating pain of watching Maine South celebrate.
In 2013, Loyola finally exacted its revenge on Maine South, beating the Hawks 35-0 in the Class 8A quarterfinals. Senior quarterback Jack Penn threw four touchdown passes as the Ramblers led 21-0 after the first quarter and 35-0 at the half. Senior cornerback Jack Gleason had three interceptions, and senior defensive lineman Charlie Pontarelli had two sacks. The Ramblers beat Stevenson 15-14 in the semifinals before losing to Naperville Central 13-10 in the title game.
HOLECEK — We were geared up for that game. We studied our butts off as coaches, and we very happy to absolutely dominate them.
MAHONEY — I’ve never seen a bunch of kids or coaches so charged up for a game. John was crazy on edge that week, which showed me how focused he was in his preparation and how much he cared about winning that game. I just left him alone.
DREW CERNEY (Linebacker, Class of 2014) — When we played them my senior year, I think everyone had a chip on their shoulder for the game. That was a special team to be on. Unfortunately, the season didn’t end how we hoped it would, but shutting out Maine South is a fond memory of that year.
MARK DOWDLE (Cornerback, Class of 2015) — Maine South was definitely on the radar for teams to beat coming into Loyola my freshman year. When we beat them 35-0 my junior year, it was more than just a win. It was a victory for the alumni in the crowd that were never able to get over the hump. It is because of those guys that came before us that we were able to perform the way we did. I remember that game because our defense, offense and special teams played at a high level all the way around. There was a different type of focus that week, and it showed on the field. One of the guys on the team here at St. Thomas played for Maine South, and that 35-0 game was his final game in high school. I give him a reminder about that here and there.
OWEN BUSCAGLIA (Wide Receiver, Class of 2015) — When I was in grade school and a few years following, Maine South was the powerhouse. I mainly remember running back Matt Perez. Loyola could never seem to get over the hump until 2013. It could have started the run, but we were never afraid of Maine South. The win we had was just another game on our way to the state championship. But it did make it quite fun that we were able to play Maine South. The Loyola program has tons and tons of milestones, and that game was one of them.
PAVILOS — I knew our day would come, and we would eventually beat them. Two of those three losses could have gone either way and included some major heartbreak. A couple of those teams and players were some of the best to ever play in Illinois. At the time of those losses, we were trying to put Loyola back on the map while Maine South was in the middle of its dynasty. But Holecek and the rest of the staff have flipped the script, and now we are in the midst of our dynasty. The dominance over the them can be credited to all the teams at the beginning of the Holecek era who set the precedent for the new day and age of Loyola football. The mentality now is state title or bust, and these kids know how to handle the expectations that were set by the teams before them. They are winning for themselves, but they also are winning for all of the players who came before them. I think the 2013 win signaled a changing of the guard. Beating them so badly in such an embarrassing fashion felt so good as a fan and former player.
FORSYTH — I was at that game. The 35-0 win started to get me over my bitterness about Maine South. It was a big moment for me, and it was a little weight off of my shoulders. I’m not going to lie and say I am totally over losing to Maine South my senior year, but it’s safe to say that win has helped. It was a big hurdle to clear for Loyola.
DOOLEY — That was a game all past Ramblers felt especially proud of. It was a statement. I can’t say whether or not it started our run, but it was definitely one of the bigger moments in recent memory.
MAHONEY — I think it was a symbolic win. Maine South was the team in 8A that was most feared throughout the years. By us winning that game and getting to the state title started to change that perception.
KEARNS — I always knew Loyola would get over the hump with Maine South. I was at the 2013 game. I was not surprised to see Loyola win, but I’ll admit I was surprised to win in such dominating fashion against such a good program that had our number in previous years. I feel like Jack Penn and that team broke down a huge barrier and built a positive momentum that ultimately led to us winning the 2015 state championship.
PENN — We wanted nothing more than to shut them out and send a message to let them know that Loyola officially took over as the most dominant program in the area.
After winning all 13 of its games so far this season, Loyola gets an opportunity to defend its Class 8A state championship against Maine South. The Ramblers beat the Hawks 44-43 in Week 2.
MAHONEY — It would be really great to get a second state title. Being in the state final four out of six years, to get two would be special. I think it’s cool, and it’s good for football in northern suburbs. I think it’s fun because it’s Maine South, because it’s a rivalry. I think there is a mutual respect now, but there is no love lost between these two teams.
BUSCAGLIA — I love the fact Maine South and Loyola are playing. Feels like they don’t like us, and we don’t like them. But a state title win will be a state title win.
FORSYTH — I am a huge believer in you want to play teams like Maine South in games like this. I’m sure the kids are pumped. If Loyola goes out there and establishes itself like it’s done so far in the playoffs, another weight will be lifted off my shoulders, and I will feel better about this rivalry.
KEARNS — I have goosebumps thinking about Loyola playing Maine South in Champaign. If I could have picked a state final matchup prior to the season based on level of excitement, football pedigree and the bad blood of an intense rivalry, this would be the one. I already have tons of adrenaline in anticipation for what’s to come on Saturday. The atmosphere will be incredible.
CERNEY — I love that they are playing Maine South, instead of a team with no history against Loyola. It makes for a better story and a win will be that much better. I just wish they could play the game at Ryan Field or somewhere closer.
DOOLEY — I think it’s about time, but I think this matchup has served as a state championship a couple of times before in the earlier rounds. Now, we will have a chance to put this all to rest, if we take care of business. This is a matchup not only Loyola fans have wanted, but I think those who are fans of IHSA football have wanted. These are easily the two most dominant teams in 8A in the past 10 years, and now it’s for all the marbles.
PENN — When I found out we were playing them, my eyes lit up and thought to myself how badly I want this team to beat them. There is so much tension between our teams and nothing would make me happier than bringing home that trophy for the second year in a row, proving that Maine South doesn’t even deserve to be compared to us. I wouldn’t mind a 40-point win. That would be wonderful.
Photo credit: Geoff Scott