Loyola Academy’s new football coach, Beau Desherow, had an old score to settle when his Ramblers traveled to Naperville North for the second game of the season on Friday, Sept. 1.
“I played my last game in Rambler uniform against them in the 1992 state championship game at Illinois State and we lost,” Desherow said after Loyola avenged that loss with a 27-6 victory that was more difficult than the score suggested.
It was a costly triumph. Junior quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald — who made a stellar varsity debut in the previous week’s victory at Grand Rapids Catholic Central and was in the forefront when the Ramblers took an early lead in this game — had to leave the contest because of leg injuries with just under eight minutes to play in the second quarter following hard hits on five consecutive plays.
The first two times he ran the football and the next three he was pummeled by hard-charging defenders just after throwing the football on incompletions.
“I’ll be OK,” Fitzgerald said with a brave smile as he hobbled along the sideline on crutches after the game.
The extent of his injuries and how soon he will be able to return, however, were uncertain.
“When he gets evaluated by the medical staff we’ll see what we need to do,” Desherow said.
Fitzgerald showed the way when the Ramblers went 80 yards in four plays following the opening kickoff to seize a 7-0 lead. The son of Northwestern’s former coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is working as a volunteer coach at Loyola, ran 57 yards down the left sideline to the home team’s 23-yard line and then threw a 21-yard pass to senior wide receiver Nicholas Arogundade for the touchdown.
Senior Michael Baker then kicked the first of his three extra points, and on the play after Fitzgerald was helped off the field, he kicked a 44-yard field goal that increased the Ramblers’ lead to 10-0.
It took only 45 seconds for Loyola to strike again. This time junior free safety Donovan Robinson made the play, picking off a third-down pass and taking it 27 yards to the end zone.
“Our coaching staff went over that play and we executed,” Robinson said. “I recognized the play, saw the ball, picked it and took off. It felt good to see the open field in front of me.”
When Naperville North regained possession of the football following the touchdown the Huskies advanced to their 40-yard line before being stopped in a fourth-and-1 situation.
Senior Lucas Holubar then came in to play quarterback for the Ramblers. His two pass completions, a 21-yard run by junior Drew MacPherson and a pass interference penalty enabled them to penetrate to the Huskies’ 9-yard line before being halted.
Late in the half Baker’s 46-yard field goal attempt was blocked and at the break the Ramblers were clinging to their 17-0 lead.
At this point, with their top offensive weapon out of the game, it appeared the defending 8A state champions were vulnerable.
But Holubar answered the challenge.
“You always have got to prepare like you’re going to be playing,” said Holubar, who last season saw limited playing time as one of the backups to June graduate Jake Stearney.
“They brought a lot of pressure and I had adjust to that. This summer we had great competition at quarterback with Fitz, (senior) Freedom Ali and myself and that has made me a better player.
“It’s a credit to our guys facing adversity and responding.”
With 4:23 to play in the third quarter the Ramblers defense again put points on the scoreboard. This time senior cornerback Ethan Hogg intercepted Bell’s pass and returned it 54 yards for the touchdown.
“We practiced against that play tons of times,” Hogg said. “I made the interception and was wide open.
“We knew this was going to be a battle and (mindful of what Desherow had told the team at practice earlier in the week) we wanted to get even because 31 years ago we lost to them in the state championship game.”
Hogg’s touchdown perished the thought that the Huskies conceivably could make a comeback.
Baker’s 46-yard field goal with 2:43 remaining completed the scoring for Loyola in what was tantamount to a shutout.
With their first team playing against the Ramblers’ reserves, the Huskies drove 80 yards for their touchdown, and it came on a 1-yard run on the last play of the game.
Indicative of the impact the Loyola defense had on the outcome, the DuPage Valley Conference opponent was 0-for-5 on fourth-down conversions and 2-for-14 on third-down conversions.
Despite the disparity on the scoreboard, Desherow wasn’t satisfied with Loyola’s performance, particularly the offensive line’s intermittent inability to cope with pass rushes, tackling problems on defense and some costly penalties.
“We’re starting Catholic League (on Friday night Sept. 8 at Marist) and we have a lot to work on,” he said. “For sure there are a lot of things we have to work on.
“Robinson and Hogg made very big plays on defense that bailed us out, and (senior defensive tackle) Joe Kelly was very physical and had a strong game.
“We had all the confidence in the world in Lucas at quarterback. He’s a senior. He’s an excellent leader and he’s very poised.”
Before leaving the game Fitzgerald gained 73 yards on 5 carries and completed 6 of 10 passes for 44 yards. Holubar had 8 completions in 16 attempts for 54 yards and had 11 net yards rushing to show for three attempts. He was thrown for 16 yards in losses.
MacPherson led Loyola’s ground attack with 98 yards in 18 carries, and his senior backup Finn Miller contributed 37 yards in four carries.
Arogundade was the most effective pass receiver with six catches for 71 yards followed by junior wide receiver Will Carlson with four for 25 yards.
Naperville North’s senior running back Cole Arl had 19 rushes for 101 yards and 2 receptions for 17 yards, while senior wide receiver Carson Marlar recorded 7 catches for 46 yards.
“I thought we punched with them,” critiqued Huskie Coach Scott Drendel, whose team was a 35-21 winner in its nonconference opener against Homewood-Flossmoor. “Take away the two pick sixes and it’s a 13-6 game.”
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.