Loyola senior safety Daniel O’Flaherty’s interception was one of three turnovers the Ramblers forced in the second half Saturday that contributed to their 24-7 win over St. Rita at Hoerster Field.
He doesn’t make that play last season.
For the first three seasons at Loyola, O’Flaherty (pictured above) was a receiver and tight end. He was asked to switch to defense in January to fill a need on that side of the ball. His first priority was to study the playbook.
“I did a lot of reading and watching film because it was winter and I couldn’t get on the field,” he said. “In the summer, I had to learn how to tackle again. I still need a lot of reps, but I’m getting there.”
Tied 7-all at the half, the Ramblers (2-1) seized the momentum in the third quarter after junior Nate Van Zelst connected on a career-long 49-yard field at the 1:09 mark to give Loyola its first lead of the game at 10-7.
“It was a choppy first half and a weird game until that field goal,” Loyola head coach John Holecek said. “It seemed to fall to our side after that.”
The Ramblers then caused three consecutive turnovers, all in the fourth quarter. Junior cornerback Artis Benjamin forced a fumble and junior linebacker Braden Mullen recovered it. Loyola made it count when junior running back Vaughn Pemberton scored on a 16-yard run to go up 17-7 with 8:48 remaining in the fourth.
On St. Rita’s next series, O’Flaherty picked off a pass, setting up another touchdown. This time, junior quarterback Perrion McClinton threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end James Kyle, putting the Ramblers ahead 24-7 with 2:58 to go in the final quarter.
The Ramblers secured the win after senior defensive lineman Luke Desherow recovered a fumble caused junior linebacker Daniel Naselli.
The defense held the Mustangs, who entered the game averaging 29.0 points, scoreless for the final 38 minutes. Sophomore running back Kaleb Brown, already a Power 5 prospect, scored on a 41-yard run in the first quarter to stake St. Rita (1-2) to a 7-0 lead. He finished with 83 yards on 16 carries.
Playing defense for the first time since his grammar school days at Chicago’s St. Juliana, O’Flaherty leads Loyola with two interceptions. He said the defense, which returned one player with significant experience, continues to improve.
“We did a lot of good things, but we have a long way to go,” O’Flaherty said. “This was a big test, and I think we made small steps in the right direction. We are not close to where we need to be, so we will keep grinding.”
The Ramblers open the Chicago Catholic Blue/East Suburban Catholic Conference Blue schedule Friday at Mount Carmel (3-0).
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola