Loyola quarterback Jake Stearney felt the momentum change when his team’s defense stopped Mount Carmel on its own 2-yard line on Friday night.
He knew the offense needed to take advantage, and he took charge, leading a 91-yard drive before the end of the first half to put Loyola up 7-3 at halftime.
Stearney and the offense started the second half with the same mindset, driving 81 yards to give the Ramblers a 14-3 lead and changing the game’s trajectory.
“He’s playing great,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “He’s still a junior. He still had some high throws, he still has places where he can get better, but yeah, I’m glad he’s commanding our offense. He’s got a strong command of it. I’m happy that we’re winning with him managing everything.”
The junior threw for 70 yards and rushed for 38 yards on those two drives, making critical plays to get the offense moving. He finished the night with 108 passing yards and 95 rushing, playing steady the same way he has for much of the season, helping Loyola finish the regular season 9-0 and a CCL/ESCC Blue title.
Stearney’s game against Mount Carmel provided a good example of what he brings to the offense. He’s become more confident in his throws as the season has moved on, but he’s also found ways to make long runs, extending drives when it seems like they might have stalled.
Stearney admitted he’s still learning with every single week, but that he’s gaining more control of the offense with the more snaps he takes.
“It’s awesome,” Stearney said. “Run and pass in this offense, so our coach calls a great play here and there, which gives me leniency to check it here and there. It’s nice.”
Holecek has been impressed throughout the year with how Stearney handles formations and the different personnel groupings that he’s dealing with weekly. The coach has also noticed how his quarterback has corrected his teammates’ mistakes at times, helping the offense run efficiently.
“He’s very important and I’m very impressed with him mentally and physically,” Holecek said. “He played a pretty good game.”
Mount Carmel coach Jordan Lynch isn’t buying the excuses.
After losing 27-0 to St. Ignatius and 43-36 to Brother Rice, some people liked to point out that the Caravan only started three or four seniors and the players needed time to learn as the season moved on.
Mount Carmel won its next two games before its comeback against Loyola fell short on Friday night.
Lynch didn’t want to make any excuses after his team’s loss heading into the postseason.
“We feel good,” Lynch said. “We just need to keep working hard and we can’t keep beating ourselves. Everyone wants to say we only start three or four seniors, everyone wants to say we’re such a young team, this or that, but it’s Week 10, we’re varsity football players, we’re growing up every week.”
The Caravan fought back from a 21-6 deficit and were a two-point conversion away from tying Friday’s game. They had big games from quarterback Blainey Dowling and running back Darrion Dupree.
Lynch has seen the fight with his team, and despite their youth, the Caravan are ready to start the playoffs at Thornwood on Friday night.
“They’re trusting the process,” Lynch said. “They’re trusting us as coaches and we’re getting there.”
Best of the best
The CCL/ESCC Blue division teams showed why the division might be the best in the state.
Loyola, Brother Rice, Mount Carmel and Marist all finished with at least six wins, earning automatic playoff qualification. The Ramblers finished the season undefeated and won the division outright while the Crusaders’ lone losses came to Loyola and undefeated Joliet Catholic. All three of Marist’s losses came in the division.
Now all four teams will try to have a long postseason push. Loyola is the top seed in the 8A bracket and will start the postseason against Downers Grove South. With the teams on opposite sides of the 8A bracket, the Ramblers could see Marist later in a potential championship game, but the RedHawks will start Glenbard East on Friday night.
Brother Rice hosts Wheaton Warrenville South on Saturday night in the 7A bracket. The Crusaders could see the Caravan later in the bracket, but Mount Carmel will start against Thornwood on Friday.
Marist linebacker Jimmy Rolder continues to take in the college football scholarship offers.
The senior received an offer from Wisconsin on Tuesday, making it now nine offers after not having an offer Oct. 8.
Rolder will make a decision soon among the Badgers, Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Purdue, Cincinnati and TCU.