Loyola repeats as IHSA Class 8A state champs; bests Lincoln-Way East in rematch

Ramblers oust Griffins for third straight playoff

Loyola players celebrate their 26-15 win over Lincoln-Way East in the Class 8A championship on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023 at Hancock Stadium in Normal.

NORMAL – Beau Desherow had a feeling the improbable would be possible for Loyola after Week 1.

He was on to something.

Loyola defied all obstacles throughout the season and ended its improbable run Saturday with a second straight championship. The Ramblers defeated Lincoln-Way East 26-15 to win the Class 8A title and finish the season undefeated.

“Once we hit that groove, we just didn’t look back,” quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald said.

Loyola (14-0) didn’t waste time finding its groove Saturday night in a rematch of last season’s Class 8A title match. The Ramblers drove 80 yards down the field on their opening drive and scored with 10:48 left in the first quarter when Fitzgerald found Brendan Loftus for a 15-yard pass.

Much like he had all season, Fitzgerald kept making plays with the talent around him. He scored on a 2-yard run with 17 seconds left in the first quarter and later found a wide open Nick Arogundade for a 32-yard touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter for a 20-7 halftime lead.

After a scoreless third quarter, Drew MacPherson rushed in for a 12-yard touchdown with 10:11 left to give his team a 26-7 lead.

“We knew that this team was a very physical team and if we could match their physicality, if we could come out and impose our will that we were going to be in good shape,” Desherow said. “Being able to have our offense come out and go right down the field, I think it gave everyone confidence.”

Fitzgerald completed 17-of-21 passes for 203 yards and added 89 on the ground in his first title-game appearance. MacPherson overcame a leg injury and rushed for 117 yards.

“I was just leaving it all out on the field,” MacPherson said. “A lot of great blocks from the wide receivers, the o-line holding up really well and the defense making stops. I think everyone did their best today.”

“Once we hit that groove, we just didn’t look back.”

—  Ryan Fitzgerald, Loyola quarterback

While the offense started things off, the defense limited the Griffins from building any momentum. The Ramblers held Lincoln-Way East to its second-lowest scoring total of the season and 85 yards rushing.

Loyola’s Ryan Fitzgerald runs to outside against Lincoln-Way East in the Class 8A championship on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023 at Hancock Stadium in Normal.

Desherow thought Saturday was possible because of the process set in place with former coach John Holecek. Each player and coach knows what the standard of competing for Loyola.

Ultimately, the process worked thanks to the dedication of its participants, Desherow said.

“When you have kids like these, anything is possible,” Desherow said. “We just wanted to prepare our best and be ready for whoever was our opponent at the end of the week, so one week at a time. That’s what got us here.”