“There are lots of tragedies in this world, and this isn’t one of them,” Loyola Academy coach John Holecek told his heartbroken Ramblers, putting into context their 35-21 loss to Lockport in the IHSA Class 8A semifinals. “Say a prayer of gratitude.
“I’m so proud of you. Keep your heads up. We’re 18-1 this year (counting the unprecedented six-game COVID-necessitated spring season in which there was no post-season).
“One loss with all these injuries left and right, and we played by far the hardest schedule anyone has ever seen. You know how to win — carry that for the rest of your life.”
No. 4 seeded Lockport went into the Saturday, Nov. 20 Hoerster Field matchup with the top-seeded Ramblers with one loss, a 12-10 home field defeat inflicted by Lincoln-Way East on Oct. 15 when the Porters’ outstanding quarterback Hayden Timosciek was out with an injury.
Loyola had edged Lincoln-Way East 3-0 in a Nov. 13 quarterfinal struggle in which the Ramblers racked up seven sacks.
It seemed as though this might be another sackfest when defensive lineman Mike Williams threw Timosciek for a 3-yard loss on the first play from scrimmage, shaking up the 6-foot-7 senior in the process. Andrew Lopresti gained 3 yards on the next play and then, Timosciek’s replacement, Brady Pfeiffer, threw an incompletion, creating a fourth-and-11 punting situation from the Porters’ 19.
The punt was partially blocked and Loyola took over on the Lockport 27. Aided by two penalties that cost the Porters 12 yards the Ramblers relied on their running game to score in six plays with linebacker James Kreutz joining the backfield to hammer over the goal line from 1 yard out. Michael Baker’s extra point kick made the score 7-0 with 3 minutes 59 seconds elapsed.
But, as it turned out, this game bore no resemblance to the quarterfinal contest against Lincoln-Way East that saw the Ramblers have a lopsided statistical advantage even though they were able to score only three points.
Against Lockport, the sack by Williams was the only one of the afternoon and the statistics favored the Porters.
The most telling statistics were fourth down conversions, 3-for-3 for the Porters and 2-for-7 for the Ramblers; third down conversions, 3-for-12 for the Porters and 1-for-10 for the Ramblers; and turnovers, two for Lockport and five for Loyola.
“Obviously that is a very talented team,” Holecek said. “Their quarterback is an amazing athlete and their receivers are special.
“It wasn’t meant to be. Our running backs — Mike Regan and Will Nimesheim got hurt (in the second quarter). (Tight end Jack Fitzgerald) gets hurt (in the second quarter). Jake Stearney hurts his thumb in the third quarter and can’t throw effectively.”
Kreutz was pressed into service in the backfield in the third quarter, joining third stringer Kyan Gibbs and freshman Drew MacPherson, who made his varsity debut.
Fortunately for Lockport, Timosciek’s absence from the field was limited to the game’s second and third plays from scrimmage.
Following the Loyola touchdown that opened the scoring Timosciek reentered the game after Joey Manzo ran the kickoff back to the Lockport 44. It took the towering quarterback only five plays to produce a touchdown and it came on his 7-yard pass to Danny Martisek. Then, Gabriel Czako’s extra-point kick made the score 7-7.
In the second quarter the Ramblers capitalized on another punt that went awry to gain good field position and drive 57 yards for a touchdown. Again Kreutz got the TD on a 1-yard run and it again was punctuated by Baker’s extra point.
Undaunted, Lockport immediately retaliated with a 71-yard drove climaxed by Timosciek’s 30-yard TD pass to Ryan Little and followed by Czako’s point-after kick that tied the score with 24 seconds remaining in the half.
With 5:16 to play in the third quarter Lockport took the lead on a 7-yard run by Ty Schultz, ending a 58-yard drive.
Late in the quarter the Porters launched a 64-yard scoring drive that saw them widen their lead to 14 points 50 seconds into the fourth quarter when Schultz scored from the 1 and Czako kicked the extra point.
Then Stearney tossed the ball to his backup Luke Collins behind the line of scrimmage on the right flank. Luke hurled a 34-yard pass to Spencer Leadbetter for the big play in a penalty-aided touchdown drive climaxed by Luke’s 6-yard pass to Roger Simon. Baker’s third extra point reduced the deficit to 28-21 with 10:27 remaining on the clock.
But the Porters continued to play assertive defense and an interception by Dylan Schmutzler at the Loyola 43 with 8:21 to go instigated another scoring drive that was climaxed by Timisciek’s 8-yard pass to Little. Czako’s fifth extra point put the finishing touches on the triumph that sent Lockport to the Class 8A championship game against Maine South at Northern Illinois on Saturday, Nov. 27.
“This was such a disappointment because Marco Maldonado was really close to being ready,” Holecek lamented. “Him not being able to play his last game (as a Rambler in the state title game) was very disappointing.”
The Ramblers senior superstar sustained a broken collarbone in the closing seconds of the 46-43 victory at Brother Rice in the fourth game of the regular season, a contest in which he set a single game school rushing record by gaining 335 yards on 38 carries and tallied four touchdowns and ran for a two-point conversion.
Although he played in only four of the Ramblers’ 13 games Maldonado was the team’s leading scorer with 88 points followed by Baker, the sophomore extra-point and field goal kicker, with 82. Then came Kreutz, who was used in the backfield only in clutch situations, with 44 and wide receiver Danny Collins with 36.
Collins ended his high school career by playing an outstanding game. He caught four passes for 40 yards and returned three kickoffs for 71 yards.
“These guys are going to be my brothers for life,” Collins said of his teammates. “We were missing a bunch of key players but we never stopped fighting.
“The juniors are going to be phenomenal next year. Jake Stearney is going to be All-State.”
Stearney completed 19 of his 34 passes for 177 yards against Lockport but the thumb injury obviously curtailed his effectiveness in the second half.
“It happened at the start of the third quarter on the first down pass play (a 12-yard completion to Jack Parker),” the sobbing quarterback said. “I hit it on a helmet.”
Fitzgerald, who was on crutches, said his hip flexor injury was “a mixture of things,”
“It got popped when I caught the ball (for a 27-yard gain on his only reception on the second play of the second quarter) and then after our second extra point I blocked and felt a pain,” he explained.
Before making their premature departures Regan ran four times for 18 yards and caught a pass for 5 yards and Nimesheim ran six times for 15 yards and caught three passes for 24 yards.
Kreutz wound up being Loyola’s biggest gainer with 27 yards on 10 rushes. MacPherson netted 14 yards on three carries and Gibbs picked up 1 yard in two rushes but contributed 27 more yards on three pass catches.
Simon’s statistical contribution consisted of three catches for 27 yards and a touchdown but he also drew two pass interference penalties.
In Holecek’s educated opinion, “Roger played well.”
This was only the second game of the season for the senior receiver, who was the Ramblers’ most productive receiver during the six-game spring campaign with 163 yards on eight catches.
“I tore a meniscus playing baseball in June,” Simon said. “I had a week of practice before I played for the first time last week. I’d played before so coming back wasn’t a big adjustment. It just felt good to be out there.”
Simon had one of the most remarkable springs in Loyola sports history. After playing a major role for the football team he starred for both the baseball and track teams.
In the spring season all of Loyola’s conquests came against ranked teams and this fall they were joined in the IHSA semifinals by five of their eight regular season opponents: Marist (a 35-33 loser to Maine South) in 8A; St. Rita and Brother Rice in 7A; Fenwick in 5A and Rochester in 4A.
St. Rita (11-2) and Fenwick (11-2) were victorious and will be playing for the championship in their respective classes.