FIRST DOWN: Senior quarterback Quinn Boyle said the players had heard which teams the Ramblers might face in the first round of the Class 8A state playoffs.

Edwardsville and Warren both were considered possible opponents. There was no mention of New Trier.

When the pairings were announced late Saturday night, Boyle and several teammates — all of whom were watching the selection show at senior linebacker Chris Scott’s house — erupted with excitement.

“We all went crazy, jumping up and down, shoving each other,” Boyle said. “We had no idea that game was possible.”

With the exception of football, Loyola and New Trier compete against each other in most sports every school year.

For the first time since 2006, the neighborhood rivals will meet on the gridiron when the Ramblers host the Trevians at 2 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the Class 8A state playoffs. Loyola (8-1) earned the No. 6 seed, while New Trier (6-3) drew the No. 27 seed.

The last time the two teams played the Trevians beat the Ramblers 13-8 at New Trier in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs. It was John Holecek’s first season as Loyola’s head coach. They also played each other in Week 2 during the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

“This is a game we always wanted to play,” Boyle said. “It’s going to be hyped up like a state championship game. But I think it’s good for us to not have a laid back game in the first round.”

SECOND DOWN: It’s been nearly two decades since the Catholic Blue has seen a team dominate like Loyola has in recent years.

Saturday’s 28-7 win over Brother Rice was the Ramblers’ third consecutive undefeated and outright league title in a row. The last team to enjoy such success was Mount Carmel when it went undefeated and won the conference championship from 1998-2000.

“Going undefeated one season in the Catholic Blue is a big deal,” senior linebacker Anthony Rodriguez said. “To do it three years in a row is incredible. We are leaving a legacy.”

This conference championship has special significance, according to Holecek. He said he has never coached a team that had as many injuries as the Ramblers did during the summer. Then, they lost starting senior linebacker Peter Kennedy for the season to a knee injury in Week 1’s loss to Phillips. In Week 2, starting junior offensive lineman Joe Naselli suffered a season-ending knee injury.

“This team has played with a big heart,” Holecek said. “They leave it all on the field every game. These guys give us everything.”

THIRD DOWN: Atter the Ramblers graduated Graham Repp and Anthony Romano, Holecek needed to fill holes at inside linebacker.

One player he tapped was Rodriguez. A starter at outside linebacker last season, the 6-foot, 205-pound Rodriguez said he was more than willing to make the move. On Saturday, he had a team-best three tackles for loss.

Rodriguez said he has more responsibility as an inside linebacker.

“On the outside, you have only one half of the field, and you either rush or drop back into coverage,” he said. “The inside position requires more vision and technique. You have to see the whole field. You have to have great footwork. It was tough at the beginning. I owe it to [Holecek] for helping me get better each day.”

FOURTH DOWN: Senior Kyle McGarvey (pictured above) fielded a punt midway through the first quarter Saturday that demonstrated his value to the Ramblers.

After Brother Rice’s first possession stalled on three downs, senior punter John Richardson booted a high ball that carried in the wind and required  McGarvey to retreat toward the end zone. He caught the ball over his shoulder, swung around and returned it 19 yards to Loyola’s 35-yard line.

There’s no doubt it saved the Ramblers yardage. Five plays later, senior running back Hamid Bullie scored on a 25-yard run to give Loyola a 14-0 lead.

“Field position is something that can go overlooked, but it’s an important part of the game,” McGarvey said.

In Saturday’s 28-7 win, McGarvey returned two punts for 36 yards. For the season, he averages 7.6 yards per return. As a kick returner, he averages 22.7 yards, with a long of 31.

Photo credit: Geoff Scott