FIRST DOWN: Special teams competence comes into clearer focus during the postseason, and Loyola is lucky to be more than capable in that department.

Junior kicker Eddie Auer (pictured above) converted all four of his extra points in Saturday’s 30-10 win over Marist in the Class 8A state quarterfinals and is a perfect 21-for-21 after becoming the starter in Week 8.

A Glenview resident and graduate of Attea Middle School, Auer also handles kickoff duties.

“It’s been going well, and I hope it continues,” said Auer, a cousin of senior cornerback Patrick Russell. “I was definitely nervous for my first game, but I get more confident the more I play.”

Auer is the team’s third kicker since the summer. Senior Quinn McCarthy was slated to start, but he broke his left leg in the offseason. Junior Dan Baker started seven games before giving way to Auer.

That Loyola has been able to turn to its third kicker without interruption in production is a testament to the program’s depth.

“A lot of times in the handshake lines [after games], players from the other team are amazed with how many guys we have,” Auer said.

Auer agreed with the value of special teams, pointing to the punt by sophomore Thomas Schaefer in Saturday’s first quarter that pinned Marist at its own 1-yard line and indirectly led to Loyola’s first nine points and ultimately the victory.

“Special teams can help win games,” Auer said.

SECOND DOWN: John Holecek won his 134th game as Loyola’s head coach Saturday to become the program’s all-time leader in career victories.

Holecek surpassed legendary head coach John Hoerster, who won 133 games from 1987-2002. In 12 seasons with the Ramblers, Holecek, a former NFL linebacker, is 134-26. During that time, Loyola has won one Class 8A state title and finished Class 8A runner-up three times.

During a halftime interview with CN100 Sports’ Mark Krueger at Marist, Loyola athletic director Pat Mahoney praised Holecek’s accomplishments.

“His work ethic matches his talent,” Mahoney said. “He’s a grinder, he gets after it and he’s super intelligent. He has the ‘it’ quality and kids love him. He’s the real deal.”

THIRD DOWN: Loyola’s defense continues to perform at a high level, and Saturday’s performance against Marist might have been one of its finest efforts this season.

The Ramblers held the RedHawks to well below its season averages in points and total yards. Marist senior running back DJ Harrell came into the game averaging 121.7 yards per game and 6.1 yards per carry and finished with five yards on seven carries. Loyola forced four turnovers.

Loyola, which is surrendering 12.0 points a game and has 20 takeaways, is getting contributions at every level, from senior defensive linemen Marty Geary and John McMahon to senior linebackers Anthony Rodriguez and Chris Scott to senior safety Charlie Largay and junior safety Jake Gonzalez.

Also of note, Loyola still hasn’t allowed any points in the first quarter this season and only 31 in first halves. The Ramblers haven’t trailed since Week 1.

FOURTH DOWN: None of the final four teams in Class 8A are strangers to deep runs in the state playoffs.

Loyola (11-1) is in the Class 8A state semis for the third consecutive season and eighth time in nine years. After winning the Class 8A state title last year, Maine South (11-1) is back for a second season in a row. Edwardsville (9-3) last played in the state semifinals in 2013 when the Tigers played in Class 7A. Lincoln-Way East (12-0) has returned to the state semifinals for the first time since taking second in Class 7A in 2012.

There is some recent history in the two semifinal matchups. Lincoln-Way East beat Maine South 28-26 in Park Ridge in Week 2. The Ramblers and Edwardsville played each other in Week 2 of the 2014 season, a game Loyola won 29-28 in overtime in Wilmette.

Photo credit: Geoff Scott