Wilmette, Sports

Ramblers unleash roster while picking up first shutout, fifth win

Just past the halfway point in the regular season the undefeated Loyola Academy Ramblers have indicated that they have the right stuff to make a run for a second straight IHSA Class 8A football championship.

They put on another powerful performance before a homecoming crowd at Hoerster Field on Saturday, Sept. 23, scoring their fifth consecutive victory and recording their first shutout of the season in overwhelming St. Patrick’s 38-0.

Indicative of the Ramblers’ dominance they had 474 net yards to 156 for the visitors. Effective in the air and on the ground, they were 8-for-11 on third-down conversion attempts and 1-for-1 on fourth down as opposed to 1-for-8 and 0-for-1 for the Shamrocks.

The only problem was penalties — the Ramblers were charged with 8 for 65 yards.

A 19-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald was invalidated by a holding penalty in the second quarter; they lost excellent field position as a consequence of an infraction following an interception by senior strong safety Kenny Langston in the final minute of the first half; and Colin Scheid’s third quarter end zone fumble recovery was erased by a face mask penalty.

Under new coach Beau Desherow, the Ramblers’ five-game vital statistics compare favorably with those under their accomplished long-time former coach, John Holecek, last season. They are averaging 37 points per game and are giving up an average of 8.8 versus 47.4 per-game on offense and 13.8 on defense at the same point in 2022.

“We definitely need to clean up and not have those penalties,” Desherow said, who overall, though, was pleased with the way the Ramblers played, adding: “Our defensive line as a unit has been outstanding. Our linebackers played very well. (Senior linebackers) Ethan Hogg and Colin Scheid continued to show why they’re among the best in the Catholic League, and Kai Calcutt, a sophomore (defensive lineman) who played a lot in the second half, showed me something today.”

Fitzgerald got the second half off after completing nine of 16 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns and running 3 times for 27 yards in the first half.

So did several other regulars, making the dominance of the Shamrocks (1-4) in every phase of the game even more impressive.

Senior running back Finn Miller, who has gotten a lot of playing time as junior Drew MacPherson’s backup, played his best game, amassing 92 yards on seven rushing attempts and scoring on a 25-yard run for Loyola’s second touchdown in the second quarter.

Miller is a lacrosse player who played freshman football for the Ramblers, transferred to Culver Military Academy, and was on the football team there as a sophomore and then returned to Loyola as a junior.

“I just played lacrosse last year,” he said. “It was a last minute decision to play football this year, and I’m glad I decided to. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”

“Finn has been a great addition to our team,” Desherow said. “He’s a hard runner, a nice change up. Drew is a little bit more of a slasher, while Finn is lower to the ground and can get the hard yards. He also made a nice play on a screen pass (for a 15-yard gain).”

Making the most of their second-half stints that gave them their first extended playing time this season, two other running backs made an impact. John McGowan contributed 66 yards in six carries while fellow junior Francis Corrigan had 31 yards in six carries, including a 3-yard TD trip with 25 seconds left in the third quarter, and was on the receiving end of a 31-yard pass from Freedom Ali.

Lucas Holubar and Ali, the senior backup quarterbacks, played well. Ali was 1-for-1 passing and picked up three yards in his only rushing attempt, while Holubar was 4-for-4 passing for 24 yards and went to the end zone from 3 yards out on his only run for the final touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

In their five games the Ramblers haven’t thrown an interception or fumbled the football. Fitzgerald has 56 completions in 87 attempts for 818 yards; Holubar is 19 for 24 for 171; and Ali is 7-for-7 for 68.

After gaining 57 yards in nine rushes against the Shamrocks, MacPherson remains the leader of the ground attack with 273 yards in 55 carries followed by Miller with 245 yards in 38.

Senior wide receiver Nicholas Arogundade continued to give the Ramblers a dangerous weapon with five catches for 69 yards against the Shamrocdks. After being out of bounds on two outstanding receptions in the right corner of the end zone, Arogundade slanted to the middle of the end zone to catch Fitzgerald’s 36-yard pass and enable the Ramblers to take a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.

“Our offensive line gave me a lot of time to throw the longer passes and he made nice moves,” Fitzgerald said. “One he caught out of bounds was my fault — I overthrew him.”

“Fitz is a great leader, and I feel that he and I are always on the same page,” Arogundade said. “I want to be a receiver who can go up and get the ball, and they seemed intimidated by my vertical presence.”

Eight other Ramblers caught passes. Junior tight end Brendan Loftus grabbed two for 18 yards and senior wide receiver David Pezza capitalized on his only opportunity, teaming with Fitzgerald on a 24-yard play with 41 seconds to play in the first half.

It was followed by the third of Michael Baker’s five extra-point kicks and it gave the Ramblers a 24-0 lead at intermission. Baker also put the Ramblers on the road to victory when he kicked a 29-yard field goal for the game’s first points late in the first quarter.

Another dynamic component on offense for the Ramblers has been Donovan Robinson, the junior who returns punts and kickoffs. Usually refraining from playing it safe and calling for a fair catch when defenders are bearing down on him, Robinson was limited to 14 yards on three punt returns but he returned the second half kickoff 44 yards to midfield and looked like he was on his way to the end zone before being tripped.

Robinson runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and he said the reason he defies charging defenders by fielding the football and making spinning moves instead of settling for fair catches is “because I want to get as many yards as I can and put our offense in a good position.”

“He has no fear,” Desherow said. “He’s always looking to make that big play and take it to the house.”

The Ramblers have four games left on their regular season schedule. They will travel to St. Rita (4-1) on Friday night, Sept. 30, and visit defending IHSA Class 3A state champion Immaculate Conception (5-0) in Elmhurst on Friday night Oct. 6 before returning home for Saturday afternoon games against Benet Academy (3-2) on Oct. 14 and defending Class 7A state champion Mount Carmel (5-0) on Oct. 21.

In 2022 Mount Carmel put the only blemish on Loyola’s 13-1 record by defeating the Ramblers 42-37 in the last game 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.

Related Stories