Defending IHSA Class 8A champion Loyola Academy came to Elmhurst’s Plunkett Athletic Complex on Friday, Oct. 6, for a game with defending Class 3A champion Immaculate Conception expecting to be challenged by a team with a small roster but flaunting the presence of four Division I college recruits.
Instead the undefeated Ramblers encountered a team that was depleted by an epidemic of injuries following its only loss of the season, a 35-34 defeat inflicted by St. Francis of Wheaton the preceding weekend.
With just over 3 1/2 minutes elapsed the outcome seemed crystal clear: Loyola was going to win in a landslide.
The Ramblers struck for two touchdowns during that time frame, erected a four-touchdown lead before the first quarter had ended and, with the bench brigade playing most of the rest of the way, cruised to a 47-0 victory that was their most lopsided conquest of the season.
Normally, in Illinois high school football the running clock isn’t activated until a team leads by 41 points or more in the second half but in this mismatch and by mutual agreement of Loyola coach Beau Desherow and IC coach Bill Krefft, it was activated before the start of the second quarter.
The Knights took the opening kickoff and advanced to their 40-yard line, thanks to a roughing the passer penalty, before linebacker Jack McGrath picked off a pass thrown by Will Bryk and took it 46 yards to the end zone.
After the ensuing kickoff that went into the end zone for a touchback, the Knights gained only 1 yard in three plays and were forced to punt. The football went out of bounds at the Loyola 28 and the Ramblers took the field for their first series on offense.
Four plays later the Ramblers had their second touchdown: Ryan Fitzgerald completed a 19-yard pass to Brendan Loftus, Drew MacPherson ran for 28 yards, Fitzgerald connected with Will Carson on a 12-yard pass and then the quarterback ran 13 yards to the end zone.
On Immaculate Conception’s next possession, the onslaught continued. Forced back to their own 10 because of an illegal block penalty on the kickoff, the Knights gained 5 yards in three plays, dictating another punt, but this one was blocked by tackle Jimmy McGovern who recovered the pigskin and near the goal line for the score.
The third of Michael Baker’s five extra-point kicks ballooned the Loyola lead to 21-0 with only 6 minutes 2 seconds elapsed.
“I blocked it and saw the ball on the ground and picked it up and started running,” said McGovern, a defensive stalwart all season for the Ramblers who have given up only 49 points in their seven games. “I used to be a running back for my grammar school team so it was fun to get back in the end zone.”
Again, IC had no answer. Following a punt that rolled dead on the home team’s 44-yard line, the Ramblers used seven plays to score their fourth touchdown with 14 seconds to play in the opening quarter. During the march downfield MacPherson had runs of 8 and 16 yards; Fitzgerald completed passes of 6 and 8 yards to Finn Miller and Owen Joyce, respectively; and Miller had runs of 4 and 2 yards, the second of which was a TD trip.
Baker’s PAT made the score 28-0 at the half.
The Knights’ woes continued early in the second quarter when cornerback JT Kurtzweil intercepted a pass and ran it back 35 yards for the fifth touchdown.
“A good game plan by our coaches put me in the right place,” Kurtzweil said. “I stayed in the flat and read the out route. I caught it and ran with the wind. It was the first pick of my varsity career and I took it to the house for my first touchdown.”
Desherow began subbing in the second quarter. Fitzgerald left the game after completing four of five passes to four different receivers for 45 yards and gaining 15 yards in his only run that resulted in the second touchdown.
“We practiced like they were the state champs and they were,” Fitzgerald said. “I love the way we all prepared. We came in thinking this was going to be a great game — they only had lost by one point on a two-point conversion. And then they came out with nobody (prominent). It was a little disappointing but I’m happy the way we responded.
“It was great to see the guys on the scout team get to play. They work their rear ends off in practice to prepare us”
Regarding his decision to call on second stringers to challenge the mighty Ramblers, Kreff said “there wasn’t a choice to make or an opportunity to get to choose.”
“When you have a roster of 32 and you’re down nine guys and a lot of them play both ways, there’s not much you can do,” the IC coach explained.
The most conspicuous of the absentees were quarterback/free safety Dennis Mandala and tight end/free safety Eric Karner, both of whom are Texas A&M recruits; wide receiver KJ Parker, an Iowa recruit; and defensive lineman JP Schmidt, a Yale recruit.
“We have 90 guys on the roster and the most important thing is that it was a great opportunity for us to get all the guys on the field,” Desherow said. “It was nice to be able to get them some experience.”
“All week I told our kids: ‘Do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it and do it to the best of your ability.’ They came out tonight and did just that.”
At the start of the third quarter, Holubar’s 5-yard pass to David Pezza climaxed a 55-yard drive for the Ramblers’ sixth touchdown. Holubar wound up 6-for-8 for 76 passing yards.
The final TD came in the last minute of play on Devion Johnson’s 5-yard run.
Ranked No. 2 in the metropolitan area behind undefeated Mount Carmel by the Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola will be back in the friendly confines of Hoerster Field for its remaining two regular season games.
The Ramblers will play Benet Academy at 1:30 p.m on Saturday, Oct. 14, prefacing their showdown against Mount Carmel at 1 p.m. on Oct. 21. The top-ranked South Siders (7-0) are the defending at Class 7A state champions and in 2022 put the only blemish on the Ramblers’ record, a 42-37 loss in the regular season finale
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.