FIRST DOWN: They operate behind the scenes and in relative anonymity, but the players on Loyola’s scout team are integral to the team’s success.

Head coach John Holecek made sure to mention as much Saturday after the Ramblers’ 17-0 win over Maine South in the Class 8A quarterfinals.

“Our scout team has given us great looks,” he said.

Loyola’s defense limited Maine South’s high-powered offense, which entered the game averaging 37.2 points, to 71 yards, three first downs and didn’t allow the Hawks to convert a third or fourth down. The shutout was Maine South’s first since a 35-0 loss to the Ramblers in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs.

“They had a good offense,” senior receiver and scout team player Favour Holloway-Ford said. “Good running back, receivers, quarterback. They had guys who could make plays. I’m glad we shut them down.”

Although they don’t play for publicity, senior receiver Tom Maher said the scout team players appreciate the recognition.

“That fuels me to keep going, to push harder,” Maher said. “We want to contribute in any way we can to help the team win.”

The scout team offense has another big assignment this week. Lincoln-Way East, the defending Class 8A state champions, are averaging 48.0 points in the playoffs and 46.5 for the season.

Senior athlete A.J. Henning — who has offers from Notre Dame, Ohio State, among others — is the star on the Griffins offense. In three playoff games, he has 14 touches for 170 yards and three touchdowns.

“They have a lot of talented kids,” senior receiver Mike Largay (pictured above) said. “We will do our best to get the defense ready.”

Since the playoffs started, the scout team has been led by coaches Tony Belmont, James Glunz, Greg Jacobson, Edward Flynn and Liam Kirwan. According to Holecek, the addition of players from the sophomore team has been invaluable to preparation.

“We are getting more reps and playing faster in practice against kids with something to prove,” he said.

SECOND DOWN: Loyola assistant coach Pat Naughton smiled Saturday as he walked off Maine South’s field pushing an equipment cart.

“This one’s sweet,” he said.

Naughton wasn’t the only one who savored the victory. After all, the last time the two teams played Maine South beat the Ramblers 27-17 in the Class 8A state final in 2016.

“It was a very satisfying win,” Holecek said.

The players felt the same way. Not only did the Ramblers beat a rival, the victory sent Loyola to the state semis for a fourth year in a row and ninth time in 10 seasons.

“We’ve been underdogs in every game in the playoffs, and we’re still here,” Holloway-Ford said. “It goes to show you that it pays off to work hard. We always talk about how much better we prepare than other teams. We are well-equipped to win.”

Largay is the third brother in his family to play for a team that advanced to the state semifinals. Charlie (Class of 2018) was on three semifinal teams, while Emmett (Class of 2016) was on two. Both Emmett and Charlie were members of Loyola’s 2015 Class 8A state championship team.

“It’s really nice to be here, especially after we were 3-3,” Mike said. “Some people counted us out, saying it was an off year. It’s nice to show them we aren’t having a down year.”

THIRD DOWN: Since the IHSA went to eight classifications in 2001, the Ramblers are the only team that’s advanced to the semifinals in four consecutive seasons in Class 8A. And they’ve done it twice. Loyola qualified for the Class 8A semis five years in a row from 2009-2013.

“I love it,” said Maher, who’s been part of the program all four years in high school. “It’s awesome playing November football. I want to spend as much time as I can with my teammates.”

FOURTH DOWN: The Catholic Blue continues to prove its case as the best conference in Illinois. The Ramblers (9-3) are one of three league teams (out of five) remaining in the state playoffs. Brother Rice (12-0), the top seed in Class 8A, plays at Marist (11-1). In Class 5A, Montini (11-1) travels to Sterling (11-1).

Former longtime Catholic Blue team Mount Carmel (11-1) plays at St. Charles North (9-3) in the Class 7A semifinals.