Wilmette, Sports

Ramblers score 34 unanswered points for second straight week — another Catholic League blowout

After starting the season under their new coach, Beau Desherow, with three impressive victories on the road the Loyola Academy Ramblers played their home opener on Saturday, Sept. 16, and the defending IHSA Class 8A champions gained more momentum by defeating Brother Rice, 41-24.

Brother Rice gave the Ramblers some guff early in the game. In taking a 10-7 lead in the second quarter the Crusaders scored more points than each of the Ramblers’ earlier opponents had scored in the entire game.

“It took us a while to figure out what we wanted to do,” Desherow said. “We made some adjustments. Once we recognized what we needed to do we started to click and responded well. They respond to coaching. They’re a tight-knit group and they care for each other — to me that’s probably the most important thing.

“Any team in the Catholic League Blue Division is a threat. They’re going to be well-coached and they have good athletes. You have to bring your A game.”

In the second quarter the Ramblers’ “A game” was very much in evidence. By halftime they commanded a 24-10 lead and by early in the fourth quarter the South Siders’ deficit had ballooned to 41-10.

By then Desherow was playing his second and third stringers against Brother Rice’s first team and the home team gave up two touchdowns.

With that in mind, it’s safe to say that the game was more lopsided than the scoreboard suggested.

Junior quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald continued to lead the Loyola attack. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns and made a 19-yard highlight film run down the left sideline for the TD that gave the Ramblers’ permanent possession of the lead with 2 minutes 52 seconds to play in the first half.

Setting up the touchdown was another outstanding individual effort: Donovan Robinson’s 47-yard punt return that put the ball on the 19.

The Hoerster Field crowd saw many other big plays by the Ramblers.

Will Carlson leaped high in the air to win a duel with a defender in the right corner of the end zone and catch a 14-yard pass from Fitzgerald for the game’s first touchdown with 7:29 left in the first quarter.

“We had been doing it all week in practice and it was in our game plan,” Carlson said. “My coaches put me in and gave me the opportunity to make a big play and I made the most of it.”

“I just threw it up for Will and trusted that he would make the play,” Fitzgerald said. “I know the guys on my right and left will make plays for me and I want to make plays for them.”

The Crusaders counterattacked to go ahead 10-7 but the Ramblers answered. Three catches by Drew MacPherson for a total of 29 yards and Carlson’s 28-yard reception highlighted a drive that advanced the football from their 25 to visitors’ 14-yard line. When the defense stiffened and Loyola was in a fourth-and-8 situation Michael Baker kicked a 32-yard field goal that tied the score.

Fitzgerald’s superlative scoring run subsequently gave Loyola the lead and, with 45 seconds to play in the half, MacPherson upped the lead to 14 points with a 3-yard run after making a 34-yard reception to put the ball on the 4.

In the third quarter, Loyola broke open the game when Fitzgerald threw touchdown passes of 50 yards to wide receiver Nicholas Arogundade and 7 yards to MacPherson. Baker added the finishing touches with his fourth and fifth extra-point kicks and made the score 41-10 by kicking a 19-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Last season, when Arogundade was a junior, Loyola’s former coach, John Holecek, had several superb receivers playing ahead of him and his 14-game output for the state champions was limited to seven catches for 59 yards.

But this season, he has become a go-to-guy.  He caught 3 passes for a game-high 107 yards against Brother Rice, giving him 16 receptions for 238 yards in the four triumphs.

“It’s going great,” Arogundade said. “Today Drew and Will both made great plays for touchdown and I was happy I could make a play for another touchdown. In my opinion, I’m a whole new receiver this year.”

While Arogundade and Carlson give the Ramblers a pair of productive wide receivers, MacPherson is effective coming out of the backfield to catch passes. He caught six for 71 yards Saturday, increasing his season totals to 14 catches and 246 yards.

The senior backup quarterbacks continued to be effective in their relief appearances against Brother Rice. Lucas Holubar was 2-for-2 for 16 yards and Freedom Ali was 2-for-2 for 10.

Coach Casey Quedenfeld of the Crusaders (2-2) got a good performance from quarterback Ryan Hartz, who completed 13 of 26 passes for 105 yards. Their touchdowns came on Randall Nauden’s runs of 1-yard in the first quarter when it seemed it was anybody’s game and 60 yards in the fourth quarter when the game was long gone. Their final touchdown came on Cooper McAlilly’s 35-yard run with 69 seconds to play. Ronan Culkin kicked the three extra points and the 31-yard field goal that gave them their 10-7 lead in the second quarter.

The Ramblers will return to Hoerster Field on Saturday, Sept. 23, for their 1:30 p.m. homecoming game against St. Patrick’s.

“There’s always room for improvement but I like the direction we’re headed,” Carlson said, summing up the status quo as the Ramblers approach the second half of the regular season.

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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