Adversity has hit Loyola’s offense hard in the last few weeks.

The Ramblers lost junior running back Hamid Bullie to a season-ending knee injury in the last game of the regular season, and they played three quarterbacks in their Class 8A quarterfinal game against Huntley.

Despite the shake-ups, the offense has been good enough to get Loyola into the state semifinals for a seventh time in eight seasons.

A big reason for that is the play of the offensive linemen. The front five — senior left tackle John Brekke, senior left guard Jack Badovinac, senior center Paddy Kotowski, senior right guard Callum Brien (No. 76 in picture above), junior right tackle Charlie Gross (No. 74 in picture above) — has been a strength all season for the Class 8A defending state champions.

Saturday was no different.

In the 24-0 win over the Red Raiders in Huntley, the Ramblers rushed for 312 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Senior running back Kyle Rock finished with 192 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns. Senior Tomas Henning, a backup running back, ran nine times for 46 yards. The offense totaled 418 yards. The defining drive was the 14-play, 84-yard scoring series that took more than six minutes off the clock and ended with Loyola upping its lead to 24-0 with 3 minutes, 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

“That’s been the constant for us,” senior linebacker Mickey Kane said of the offensive line. “The one thing we can always rely on is our offensive line. They are the unsung heroes.”

Although senior starting quarterback Tommy Herion left Saturday’s game late in the first quarter after a head-on collision near the goal line and junior backup Quinn Boyle was out with an illness, the offense managed to move the ball and get into the end zone under the direction of third-string junior Andrew Forsyth.

“I can’t say enough about them,” Loyola head coach John Holecek said of the offensive line. “Those guys opened up some big holes for our running backs.”

Loyola offensive line coach Mike Kotowski said the unit is a combination of size, smarts, experience and athleticism. The five linemen average 6-foot-3 and 262 pounds. Additionally, Kotowski noted the line’s unusual level of versatility. Badovinac, a Colgate commit, and Brekke, a Division I recruit, can play all five positions, while Brien can play both guard and tackle.

Kotowski also commented on the position group’s depth, singling out senior Brian McTague’s contributions off the bench at guard and center. The 6-0, 235-pound McTague made two starts during the regular season.

“I thought Huntley had a very good and formidable front four,” Kotowski said. “I was very proud of how our line played. I would rate the performance highly. It’s a bright group with a high football IQ, and their focus is phenomenal. We have a new challenge this week, and they will be ready for it.”

Photo credit: Geoff Scott