All week, Loyola’s defensive coaches prepared a game plan to stop Edwardsville junior quarterback Kendall Abdur-Rahman, according to head coach John Holecek.
A converted defensive back, Abdur-Rahman’s ability to run and elude defenders made Holecek nervous. After all, he came into Saturday’s Class 8A state semifinal with 26 rushing touchdowns, one off the program record for a single season.
“I played with [former Atlanta Falcons quarterback] Michael Vick, and I said that’s Michael Vick in high school,” Holecek said. “That’s crazy. The stuff he does, his highlight film is unbelievable. We were completely worried about him all week. If we take care of him, and we don’t let him beat us, we feel good.”
Loyola executed its plan to perfection to earn a 17-10 win over the Tigers on a cold, rainy and windy day in southern Illinois.
Abdul-Rahman finished with 55 yards on 18 carries and no touchdowns. His longest gain was 29 yards. On Edwardsville’s last two possessions and the Tigers trailing 17-10, the Ramblers sacked him four times.
“We wanted to keep the quarterback in the pocket and not allow him to escape,” Loyola junior linebacker Patrick Daniels said. “The goal was to keep him contained and stop him from running.”
Daniels had two of those sacks. Senior defensive tackle Marty Geary and senior Jordan King combine for one as did senior linebacker Anthony Rodriguez and junior linebacker Armoni Dixon (pictured above).
“We wanted to pressure him the whole game, and we finally got to him,” Daniels said.
Holecek said forcing Abdur-Rahman to throw late in the game played into Loyola’s hands. He finished 2-for-5 for 25 yards.
“Our pass rush was good, but we didn’t make any running lanes for him to pick apart,” Holecek said. “He looks to explode through those holes.”
Edwardsville, playing with the wind in its favor to start the game, took a 3-0 lead at the 8:07 mark of the first quarter. Although it was the first time a team had scored on Loyola in the first quarter all season, Holecek called it a “pretty good win for us.”
The Ramblers (12-1) tied the game at 3-all on freshman Nate Van Zelst’s 30-yard field goal with 5 minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the second quarter. It was his first attempt of the season.
With 1:13 to go before the break, Loyola went up 10-3 on junior running back Rhys Logan’s 9-yard run. It was set up by senior quarterback Quinn Boyle’s 16-yard, first-down pass to senior receiver James Joyce on third down. An Edwardsville penalty moved the Ramblers even closer to the end zone.
“All I want to do is win,” Logan said. “Coming across [the goal line] was just the greatest feeling. I waited all year to get my turn and my turn came [Saturday]. I was not going to be denied.”
After Edwardsville turned over the ball on its first series of the second half, the Ramblers capitalized. Boyle again found Joyce, this time for 24 yards to the Tigers’ 5-yard line. Boyle later scored on a 3-yard run to give the Ramblers a 17-3 lead with 4:00 remaining in the third quarter.
The Tigers (9-4) responded right away, with freshman running back Justin Johnson scoring on 6-yard run with 1:37 left before the fourth.
But Loyola’s defense locked down Edwardsville, which entered the game averaging 40.1 points, in the final quarter to secure the program’s third consecutive trip to the Class 8A state final.
“We’ve had solid defensive performances the entire year,” Holecek said.
Photo credit: Geoff Scott