Wilmette, Sports

Loyola cruises to 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 34 points

QB Jake Stearney throws for four more touchdowns, while WR Declan Forde catches sixth and seventh scores on season

The football team wasted no time in starting Loyola Academy’s homecoming celebration.

As has been their custom this season, the undefeated Ramblers struck early and often on Saturday, Sept. 24, at Hoerster Field, and their adversaries could not cope.

They subsequently took a 41-point lead with 3 minutes 9 seconds remaining in the third quarter to activate the running clock and they went on to defeat Fenwick 41-7.

Last year during the regular season, the Friars lost to Loyola 27-24 on then-sophomore Michael Baker’s 41-yard field goal with no time on the clock and they recovered from the downer to win the IHSA Class 5A state championship.

The Ramblers (5-0) made that close call in 2021 seem like ancient mythology by scoring the first two times they had the football on their way to leads of 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and 34-0 at the half. Loyola has now outscored opponents 237 to 61 — averages of 47.4 to 12.2.

Last season’s IHSA Class 8A semifinalists now have outscored this season’s opponents 90-0 in the first quarter and 171-28 at the half.

Once more senior quarterback Jake Stearney was in the vanguard. He completed 15 of 18 passes for 210 yards and 4 touchdowns, giving the Colgate commit 17 touchdowns passing through five games.

The Ramblers’ top pass-catcher, Spencer Leadbetter, who had 14 receptions in the first four games, didn’t play for undisclosed reasons. “Spencer took the day off — he should be OK,” was coach John Holecek’s explanation.

Leadbetter’s absence proved to be immaterial as Loyola receivers continued to make a major impact. Putting on another impressive performance, senior Declan Forde caught five passes for 63 yards with touchdowns of 12 and 23 yards. Senior Quinn Foley caught six for 59 yards and his 8-yard reception produced the afternoon’s first touchdown with only 2 minutes 5 seconds elapsed in the mismatch, and senior Jack Parker caught two for 38 yards, the second of which was an 8-yarder for a TD with 21 seconds left in the half.

Foley also returned a punt for an apparent touchdown with just under seven minutes left in the half but it was erased because of a holding penalty.

The infraction was inconsequential; on the next play junior Will Nimesheim took a pitchout and ran 21 yards for a touchdown.

Foley returned to wide receiver, his normal position, after playing slotback earlier in the season to fill the void left when senior Corey Larsen broke his collarbone during summer practices.

“When Corey came back this week I moved back to the outside, where you get a lot more touches, and it was a cool transition,” Foley said. “Now I know I can play both positions.”

Larsen caught 1 pass for 15 yards and gained 3 yards on an end-around run.

At the start of the second half, Holecek again emptied his bench, giving third and fourth stringers a chance to play against the first team of the Friars (2-3). Stearney’s three backups — senior Luke Collins and juniors Lucas Holubar and Freedom Ali — all spent time on the field.

Holubar was effective as a passer, connecting on 3 of 4 attempts for 20 yards, and Ali stood out as a runner, scoring the Ramblers’ final TD from 1-yard out to activate the running clock and contributing runs of 24 and 23 yards to the scoring drive.

“Jake did his job and coach wanted to see what I could do,” Ali said. “Hopefully, games like this give me the experience that will enable me to run or pass — whatever coach wants me to do when he calls on me. I feel I’m a dual-threat; I enjoy running but I love to pass the ball.”

Freedom is the son of Bamidele Ali, who played college football at Kentucky and then went on to a pro career in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Another Rambler with a pro football pedigree who made an impact against Fenwick was senior middle linebacker Jack Wetoska, grandson of Bob Wetoska, who spent 10 seasons for the Bears after starring at Notre Dame.

Jack went into the game as one of the Ramblers’ top three tacklers this season but he wasn’t satisfied with his performance in the previous weekend’s 57-21 rout of Brother Rice.

“It was a letdown for me,” he said. “I made a few mistakes. Today I feel I played much better.”

Fenwick had a meager 42 net yards to show for 21 rushing attempts, while Loyola netted 213 yards in 31 carries.

Sophomore Drew MacPherson led the attack with 10 runs for 72 yards followed by Nimesheim with 54 yards in five runs.

Senior running back Kyan Gibbs, who was the team’s fifth leading rusher and scored three touchdowns last season, made his 2022 debut in the third quarter and carried twice for 9 yards.

“I’m coming back from a hamstring injury and haven’t had any issues practicing in the last two weeks,” Gibbs said. “I’ve been out since the end of May and I have to work on my endurance.”

Senior linebacker Rocco Izzo was back after missing the Brother Rice game with a shoulder injury the previous weekend at St. Rita but junior defensive lineman Joe Kelly’s ankle injury sustained against Brother Rice has turned out to be worse than Holecek originally thought.

“I’m going to have surgery on Monday,” Kelly told The Record. “I want to be back next season and then I hope to play in college.”

On the playing field the only significant problem for the Ramblers against Fenwick was the pass rush tackling. Senior quarterback E.J. Hosty repeatedly slipped out of the grasp of would-be tacklers in situations where he seemed to be on the verge of being sacked for losses.

“Bad lunging and jumping — things we talk about and want to correct,” lamented Holecek. “Now, we have proof on the film. That’s why you don’t jump because they can fake you.”

Hosty wound up completing 10 of 28 passes for 147 yards and connected with junior Elijah Romeus on a 49-yard play for the Friars’ touchdown with 9:29 left in the game. He also was the Friars’ only runner to finish with more than 6 yards with 26 yards to show for seven scrambles.

Prior to the long touchdown the Friars’ only serious scoring threat came late in the first quarter when they advanced to the Ramblers’ 5-yards line. On fourth down Hosty completed a short pass to Jalen Williams but senior defensive back Jake Devine brought him down the receiver at the 2-yard line.

That tackle prefaced a 98-yard drive that ended with Forde’s 23-yard catch for his second TD of the game and seventh of the season.

The Ramblers’ next game will be Friday night (Sept. 30) at Marist (3-2), another Class 8A semifinalist last season. Marist is coming off a 42-0 rout of Marmion and could prove to be the toughest challenge thus far in a season that has seen Loyola win its five games by an average margin of 33.6 points.

Neil Milbert

Neil Milbert was a staff reporter for the Chicago Tribune for 40 years, covering college (Northwestern, Illinois, UIC, Loyola) and professional (Chicago Blackhawks, Bulls, horse racing, more) sports during that time. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on a Tribune travel investigation and has covered Loyola Academy football since 2011.

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