WILMETTE – Nobody loves watching from the sideline.
But Loyola quarterback JT Thomas doesn’t mind. If the Loyola offense is on the field and Thomas is on the sideline, that means running back Vaughn Pemberton is taking a direct snap in the Wildcat formation. Everyone in the stadium knows what comes next, but defenses are still trying to figure out how to stop it.
“I know it’s unstoppable,” Thomas said. “I’ve yet to see a team stop him. I think there’s something about that when he gets the snap.”
Pemberton scored another three touchdowns in Saturday’s win, 35-17, over Mount Carmel. He punched in pair of 2-yard touchdown runs, then on fourth-and-1 from the 29-yard line late in the game he took another direct snap, barreled through the line and found open space for a 29-yard score.
“Patrick Reilly had a great block,” Pemberton said. “He hit him. I saw it on the film [afterward]. He hit him hard and I just started running.”
A week after scoring only once in a 7-3 win at St. Rita, Loyola’s offense came to life. Pemberton was the hero in Week 1, too, scoring the game’s only touchdown from the Wildcat formation. He finished Saturday’s game with 134 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. He also caught four passes for 66 yards.
The Ramblers (2-0, 1-0 CCL/ESCC Blue) won the mammoth matchup against division rival Mount Carmel (1-1, 0-1), a team that hadn’t lost a varsity game since 2018, going 14-0 on its way to a Class 7A state title in 2019. Many of the Mount Carmel seniors hadn’t experienced a loss on the varsity level before. The Caravan had won two consecutive games against Loyola, too.
Mount Carmel entered the week ranked No. 3 in Friday Night Drive’s statewide power rankings, while Loyola was No. 4
“They’re big, they’re physical and they ran the ball down our throats,” Mount Carmel coach Jordan Lynch said of Loyola. “All the credit to them. Our guys fought.”
Mount Carmel opened the game with a field goal, but Loyola scored three consecutive touchdowns. Pemberton scored one, defensive back Marty Auer ran back an interception 39 yards for a touchdown and receiver Roger Simon scored on an 87-yard pass from Thomas.
Auer had a pick-six touchdown called back for a penalty last year, so it was nice to find the end zone this time. He saw the quarterback roll out of the pocket and figured he knew what was coming.
“Carmel does a great job with the rollout,” Auer said. “Scout team gave me a good look, coaches had me prepared. I saw the rollout, saw the opportunity, made a play.”
Loyola led, 21-3, with 2:55 remaining in the second quarter when Mount Carmel briefly flipped the momentum. Loyola fumbled a punt return near midfield. Two plays later, Mount Carmel quarterback Justin Lynch ripped off a 40-yard touchdown run.
The Caravan forced another quick punt and scored on a 48-yard pass from Lynch to Kyheim Schooler just before halftime, making it 21-17 at the break.
But the second half belonged to Loyola.
Pemberton scored twice more and the Loyola defensive backs kept the Mount Carmel passing attack in check. Caravan running back Kenenna Odeluga led the way with 85 yards on 21 carries. Justin Lynch rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts.
With senior center Josh Kreutz out for the season with a torn ACL, Loyola’s offensive line features only one returning starter. The group struggled some in the Week 1 game against St. Rita, but looked great a week later.
“Four new starters, communication obviously improved,” said left tackle Cooper Tamisiea, the lone returning starter. “From Week 1 to Week 2 is the biggest jump of the year. Had a good week of practice, had a good look by scout team.”
Tamisiea said it looks easy when a guy like Pemberton is ripping off big runs. Thomas agreed.
“He’s an angry runner and he just won’t be denied,” Thomas said.