FIRST DOWN: Simply playing in Friday’s game was a win for Loyola senior offensive lineman and captain Joe Naselli. After all, he missed last year’s playoff game against New Trier with an ACL injury. Contributing to the 40-3 victory over the Trevians 40-3 on the road was a big bonus.
“This one has been on my mind a lot,” said Naselli, who suffered the season-ending injury in Week 2. “Not a lot of guys get a chance to play your neighborhood rival. I was really happy to be able to compete against them. It was awesome, and it was a complete team win.”
Even before answering a question about his breakout performance, senior quarterback Matthew Schiltz credited the offensive line enabling him to succeed. Senior receiver Artie Collins, who caught two touchdown passes, also praised the unit, which includes senior center Brad Hortness, junior left guard Peter Gianaris, junior left tackle Christo Kelly, sophomore right tackle Joshua Kreutz and Naselli at right guard.
“Chemistry is a big part of an O-line, and we continue to build it,” said Naselli, a Chicago resident who went to St. Mary of the Woods.
For the second consecutive game, the Ramblers showed balance on offense. Against the Trevians, they passed for 244 yards and rushed for 177, averaging 8.2 yards per play. In two games, the offense has gained 479 yards through the air and 301 on the ground.
“We got a lot better from last week, and we will keep working hard in practice,” Naselli said. “Technique is one of our strengths, but we also pride ourselves on being smarter than our opponents.”
SECOND DOWN: Through two games, senior cornerback Jack Burke (No. 35 in picture above) is tied for the team lead in touchdowns with two with senior receivers Rory Boos and Artie Collins.
Burke scored his second of the season Friday when he stripped the ball from a New Trier running back in the fourth quarter and returned it 16 yards. In Week 1, Burke returned an interception for a TD.
Burke went to Our Lady of Perpetual of Help in Glenview with Boos and Collins.
“It’s fun,” Burke said. “At the end of the day, we all are cheering for each other.”
Burke doesn’t consider himself a ballhawk, and his TD in the season opener was the first in four seasons playing in the Loyola program.
“It comes down to preparation and watching film,” he said. “It’s about doing your job and trusting your teammates will do theirs. I’m not trying to be a hero.”
At 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, Burke is bigger than most corners in high school. One of the players he looked up to prior to arriving at Loyola was 2015 graduate Mark Dowdle, who’s 6-3 and a senior cornerback and University of St. Thomas.
“My size comes in handy, and I try to utilize it the best I can,” Burke said.
Burke is part of a rebuilt defense that has been impressive so far. Loyola has allowed 279 yards for an average of 3.1 yards per play and surrendered 10 points. The lone TD came late in the fourth quarter in Week 1’s 27-7 win over Rockford (Michigan).
“It’s a bunch of guys who get after it,” Loyola head coach John Holecek said. “They read keys well, play fast together and have some pop. It’s an impressive group. Going into Week 1, the defense was a complete unknown. But we saw the film, and we are good.”
THIRD DOWN: At one of the Loyola baseball team’s playoff games in the spring, Holecek commented on how hard Collins was working in the offseason in advance of his senior year.
It paid off as Collins enjoyed the best game of his career Friday, catching five passes for 98 yards and scoring two TDs. In the opener, he had one reception for 17 yards. As a junior, Collins finished with eight catches for 115 yards and one TD.
“We were floored by his (time in the 40-yard dash),” Holecek said. “Then, with all of the other stuff he can do, we thought he could be special.”
While Boos came into the season as a known commodity, the emergence of Collins will make it challenging for opposing defenses to zero in on one receiver. Against New Trier, the two of them combined for 201 receiving yards and four TDs.
“We know our potential, and we are starting to reach it,” Collins said.
FOURTH DOWN: The Ramblers host Mount Carmel on Saturday, but the game will have a different feel than in years past. More than anything, it will because longtime head coach Frank Lenti won’t be on the Caravan sideline.
On Dec. 29, Lenti and Mount Carmel parted ways after 34 seasons. During his tenure, the Caravan won 374 games and 11 state titles, most recently in 2013 in Class 7A.
But a familiar face will be on the opposite side of the field in Jordan Lynch, a 2009 Mount Carmel graduate who played three seasons for the Caravan. As a senior, Lynch led them to a 35-14 win over the Ramblers. A quarterback, he went on to star at Northern Illinois University. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in 2013.
The other change is Mount Carmel’s exit from the Catholic Blue. It will be the first time since 2002 that the Ramblers and Caravan won’t be in the same division of the Catholic League. Mount Carmel is playing the Green this season, while Montini moved up to the Blue.
Photo credit: Geoff Scott