CHICAGO – In a game that featured punts on the first seven possessions, both teams needed a spark Thursday.
Loyola junior running back Marco Maldonado provided it. Late in the second quarter, Maldonado caught a pass from quarterback JT Thomas and dodged defenders on his way to a 58-yard touchdown.
Maldonado scored once more and running back Vaughn Pemberton added a pair of touchdowns in Loyola’s win, 28-7, at Brother Rice in CCL/ESCC Blue division play.
With the senior Pemberton stealing much of the attention, Maldonado’s opportunities don’t come as often. On Thursday, he made the most of them.
“I just know I’ve got to support the team, make sure we have energy on the sideline,” Maldonado said. “I know I have to provide myself as a leader for everybody else, and then when I get in, I’m ready to bring a little spark to the offense.”
That’s exactly what he did Thursday.
Maldonado added a 17-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter that put the Ramblers (3-0, 2-0 CCL/ESCC Blue) firmly ahead, 21-0.
“He’s shown so much in practice,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “It’s nice to see him show something in a game because he hasn’t really had much of a chance with Vaughn being so special.”
Pemberton was special. The Ball State commit rushed 19 times for 152 yards and two touchdowns. In what felt like a flashback to Saturday’s win over Mount Carmel, Pemberton scored one of his touchdowns out of the wildcat on fourth-and-short. He was looking for only a few yards, but he wound up going 41 yards to the end zone.
For Brother Rice (1-2, 0-2), the offense came too little too late. Loyola edge rusher Brandon Svets and the defensive line made life hard on Brother Rice quarterback Jack Lausch all game long.
Crusaders receiver Dwayne Moorehead made a beautiful diving catch on a touchdown pass from Lausch in the fourth quarter, but it proved to be Brother Rice’s only score.
The Loyola offense simply wore the Brother Rice defense down as the game wore on.
“Their O-line, they’re pretty big,” Brother Rice defensive back Rolando Sepulveda said. “They’re pretty fast. Their running back, he’s really good. We had to stop the run first and we did that in the first half, but then second half we couldn’t.”
Moorehead caught four passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. Lausch rushed for 85 yards on 13 carries, while also completing 12-of-21 passes for 98 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Now the Ramblers find themselves in a unique situation that only the coronavirus season could create. Loyola is rolling, has won all three games against top opponents, yet doesn’t have another game on the schedule for three weeks.
The Ramblers were informed that Benet, which already missed Week 2 and will miss this week’s game, has canceled its Week 4 matchup against Loyola. Loyola’s Week 5 game against Marian Central was wiped off the schedule prior to the season.
Holecek said he hopes to find an opponent. As things stand now, Loyola won’t play a varsity game until April 23 at Marist.
“We’re going to make the most of it,” Svets said. “It’s all we’ve got. Control the controllables, so we’re enjoying it right now and we’re going to keep enjoying it for as long as we can.”
The CCL/ESCC Blue division could be on the line in that game, which certainly gives them something to play for.