Neuqua Valley won the pregame coin toss and opted to kick off to Loyola Academy.
The top-seeded Ramblers immediately drove 77 yards in seven plays for the afternoon’s first touchdown and went on to shellac their 16th-seeded opponent from the DuPage Valley Conference 33-6 in an IHSA Class 8A second round playoff game at Hoerster Field on Saturday, Nov. 4.
“Our coaches told us: ‘They want us to have the ball so we’ve got to go down and take the life out of them,’ and that’s what we did,” said quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald, who ran 1 yard for that first touchdown and threw an 8-yard pass to Brendan Loftus for the second after setting it up with a 15-yard run to the Wildcats’ 9.
The next TD came when Donovan Robinson ran a punt back 64 yards, giving Loyola a commanding 20-0 lead with 2 minutes 35 seconds to play in the first quarter.
“Everything was working,” coach Beau Desherow said after the Class 8A defending state champions stretched their winning streak to 16 games with their 11th victory of the season.
“I loved how our offense came out on that opening drive. Then, the defense came out and people did what they are supposed to do and then Donovan, who has been electric back there all year (returning punts and kickoffs), took it to the end zone.”
It was the second touchdown of the season for Robinson, whose previous TD came on a 27-yard interception runback.
“He gives us all energy,” Fitzgerald. “He catches the ball and sidesteps, gets his wall (of blockers) and he’s off to the races. Since his freshman year (fellow junior) Donovan has played everywhere—quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and now defensive back, and wherever he has played he has played well.”
Late in the second quarter, trying desperately to get back in the game, the Wildcats gambled on a fourth-and-2 situation at their 28 and were thwarted when a pass was broken up.
Five plays later, with 39 seconds to play in the half, Drew MacPherson’s 2-yard run gave the Ramblers their fourth touchdown.
The rest of the way the Ramblers were on cruise control.
Their last TD came midway through the third quarter. Finn Miller set it up with a 28-yard run to the 2 and on the next play he rammed into the end zone.
Neuqua Valley (7-4) finally got on the scoreboard with 7:56 remaining in the mismatch when wide receiver Cooper Lehman caught a touchdown pass covering 42 yards.
“They made one big play the whole game,” pointed out Loyola linebacker Quinn Herbert, referring to the touchdown. “We stopped them early and our offense moved the ball.”
The defense has been in the forefront for the Ramblers throughout the season — holding opponents to just over 8 points-per-game — and Herbert has been one of the stalwarts.
“Quinn is a very intelligent player and he’s very tough,” Desherow said. “He’s central to stopping the run game.”
Against Neuqua Valley, the All-Chicago Catholic League selection also contributed his second interception, setting up an unsuccessful field goal attempt in the second quarter.
Other noteworthy defensive plays were sacks by linebacker Ethan Hogg, pass breakups by Robinson and cornerback Emmanuel Ofosu, a fumble recovery by linebacker Jack McGrath, and linerbacker Charlie Prior’s block on the Wildcats’ kick for the extra point.
Neuqua Valley was without one of the best players in the DuPage Valley Conference, 6-foot-4-inch 200-pound senior quarterback Ryan Mohler.
After running 46 and 38 yards for touchdowns in the opening round playoff victory against Palatine he had to leave the game because of an upper body injury and, as it turned out, the injury ended his season and his high school career.
“He’s an excellent runner and a running quarterback always is dangerous,” Desherow said, very aware of the void his absence left in the Wildcats’ attack.
The Loyola defense allowed just seven completions in 23 passing attempts; of the 85 yards the passes produced 42 came on the touchdown throw against the Ramblers’ reserves.
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald gained 47 yards in eight carries and was 6-for-11 passing for 44 yards. Backup Lucas Holubar completed four of six for 36 yards.
MacPherson led the ground game with 71 yards in 11 rushes as the Ramblers outgained their opponents in total yardage 275 yards to 125.
Loyola will have to cope with a strong running quarterback, Jack Wanzang, its quarterfinal game next weekend in Chicago at No. 24-seeded St. Ignatius (8-3). Wanzang ran for 227 yards and four touchdowns in the Wolfpacks’ 35-23 second round victory over Huntley.
The date and time of the St. Ignatius game will be announced Monday.
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.