FIRST DOWN: Not only did senior running back Michael Gavric have one of his best games of the season Saturday, he was instrumental in Loyola’s 33-3 win over St. Rita.

On the team’s second series of the game, Gavric ran once and caught two passes for first downs, including an 8-yard reception on fourth-and-1, and scored on a 7-yard run to put the Ramblers ahead 14-0.

He finished with 11 carries for 22 yards and three catches for 35 yards. Gavric’s rushing attempts equaled a season high. His receptions were his most of the year, and all three of them resulted in first downs.

“I am comfortable as a receiver, but I haven’t gotten many chances, ,” he said. “I had a nice feel for the ball, passing-wise [Saturday], and I believe I can be threat

With junior running back Tyler Flores out for the season with a knee injury suffered during the St. Ignatius game Sept. 21, the Ramblers most likely will count on Gavric continuing to make contributions to the offense.

“Tyler getting hurt was a bummer,” he said. “Even though he’s not playing, he hasn’t lost his passion. He’s someone who gets everybody hyped up on the sidelines. He’s a great person to have on the team.”

After Saturday’s performance, Gavric said he’s ready to play a bigger role going forward.

“We have deep threats like [senior] Rory [Boos] and [senior] Artie [Collins], and teams know that,” Gavric said. “Having guys who can catch passes out the backfield will make it harder to defend us.”

SECOND DOWN: Saturday was a good example of why sophomore kicker Nate Van Zelst (pictured above) is an asset to the Ramblers. He converted all four extra points, kicked a 27-yard field goal and one of his punts pinned St. Rita at its own 8-yard line.

In his first full varsity season, Van Zelst is 24-for-25 on PATs, 6-for-8 on field goals and averages 33.5 yards per punt. His longest field goal was a 38-yarder against Brother Rice.

“Special teams is important,” he said. “It’s both offense and defense.”

Van Zelst made his varsity debut last year in the Class 8A semifinal game against Edwardsville on the road. On his first kick, he converted a 30-yard field goal in the second quarter despite cold and rainy conditions.

“Making that was a big boost to my confidence,” Van Zelst said.

After agreeing to be the kicker on his fifth-grade team at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview, Van Zelst said he got hooked on the craft in seventh grade.

“That’s when I fell in love with it and started taking it seriously,” he said.

Ever since then, Van Zelst has been determined to improve his skills, even going as far to shovel snow off of Loyola’s field to practice. This past summer, he attended multiple camps. He said he wants to kick in college.

Van Zelst insisted on thanking those around him for his success, including fellow kicker and senior Eddie Auer. He also mentioned junior holder John Grogan, junior long snapper Christopher Kelly and sophomore long snapper Braden Mullen.

“It’s nice to have Eddie out there pushing me every day,” Van Zelst said. “Competition is a good thing.”

THIRD DOWN: Last week’s win against St. Rita almost assuredly secured Loyola a spot in the Class 8A state playoffs. With five wins and 51 playoff points, they should be a lock. But a victory Saturday at home against Providence Catholic guarantees Loyola its 16th trip in a row.

Gavric said the team is trending in the right direction after two consecutive wins.

“We are getting better,” he said. “The energy has been better at practice the last two weeks. We know what we can do if we play together. I don’t think anybody wants to see us in the playoffs.”

The Ramblers (5-3, 1-2 Catholic Blue) have beaten the Celtics (5-3, 1-2) eight years in a row. Their last loss was a 10-3 defeat in 2009. Providence Catholic went  on to finish second in Class 6A that season.

FOURTH DOWN: Former football players Paul Stepan (Class of 1961), Joe Cook (Class of 1997) and Matthew Cherry (Class of 1999) all will be inducted into Loyola’s athletic Hall of Fame on Friday and will be recognized at halftime Saturday.

Photo credit: Geoff Scott