Loyola beat a lot of good teams — as well as the odds — to get back to the Class 8A state final for a third year in a row.
Injuries forced the Ramblers to constantly shuffle their lineup throughout the season, but it didn’t slow them down. After a 20-14 loss to newly crowned Class 5A state champion Phillips at Gately Stadium in Week 1, they reeled off 12 consecutive wins, capturing a Catholic Blue championship along the way. Loyola beat two teams that advanced to the state semifinals. Mount Carmel made it in Class 7A, and Providence Catholic was one of the last four teams in Class 6A.
But the successful season stopped short of a state title Saturday with a 23-14 loss to Lincoln-Way East at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
The Ramblers (12-2) rallied from two deficits and took a 14-13 lead with 9 minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter on senior quarterback Quinn Boyle’s 2-yard touchdown run on fourth down.
On the ensuing series, Lincoln-Way East (14-0) kicked a 32-yard field goal to go ahead 16-14. Loyola turned over the ball for the third time on its next possession.
Like good teams do, the Griffins made the Ramblers pay as sophomore receiver AJ Henning darted up the middle on the first play for a 42-yard touchdown and a 23-14 lead with 3:44 left.
The Ramblers then went three-and-out, and the Griffins were able to run out the clock and claim their second Class 8A state title and first since 2005.
Lincoln-Way East didn’t turn over the ball and scored two touchdowns on two of Loyola’s three. Both touchdown drives started inside of Loyola territory.
Loyola’s defense was exceptional, especially in the first half, but the Ramblers ultimately had no answer for the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Henning, who already is a major-college recruit. After running six times for eight yards in the first half, he broke loose for 146 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns in the final two quarters.
The Griffins gained only 53 yards in the first half and didn’t convert any of their five third downs, yet they led 7-0.
Loyola missed an opportunity to put points on the board late in the second quarter. Starting at its own 10, the Ramblers had first-and-goal from the 10, but they came away empty.
Boyle, the Catholic Blue’s Lawless Award winner, finished 27-for-44 for 315 yards. He threw two interceptions and one touchdown, a 15-yard pass to junior receiver Rory Boos to tie the game at 7-all with 7:53 to go in the third quarter.
Without its top two running backs — senior Hamid Bullie and sophomore Trevor Cabanban — at full strength, Loyola struggled to establish a ground game, totaling 39 yards on 28 attempts. Lincoln-Way East senior Devin O’Rourke, a 6-6, 250-pound defensive end and Northwestern commit, was a force at the line of scrimmage, finishing with two tackles for loss and two sacks.
Junior Noah Jones caught eight passes for 135 yards, and Boos finished with eight receptions for 84 yards. Senior receiver James Joyce had six catches for 56 yards.
Defensively, senior linebacker Anthony Rodriguez had three tackles for loss and one sack. Senior defensive tackle Marty Geary contributed one tackle for loss and one sack, and junior linebacker Armoni Dixon finished with two tackles for loss.
Loyola was playing in its fifth Class 8A state final in seven seasons. The Ramblers finished first in 2015.
Pictured above (from left to right): Loyola senior captains Charlie Largay, James Joyce, Marty Geary, Quinn Boyle
Photo credit: Geoff Scott