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CCL/ESCC notes: Loyola’s offense looks to improve after scoring 3 points in Class 8A quarterfinal win

Twenty-one points was the lowest number of points Loyola had scored in a game heading into its Class 8A quarterfinal game against Lincoln-Way East.

On Saturday, the Griffins limited the Ramblers to three points, just enough for Loyola to advance to the semifinals with a 3-0 win.

Loyola’s offense had not struggled to score for much of the season, but on Saturday, it failed to get to the end zone despite going on numerous long drives.

Ramblers coach John Holecek said his players could’ve been cleaner with their play, but gave plenty of credit to a dominant Griffins defense.

“They’re a solid, very, very good defensive team,” Holecek said. “You see that in all the scores, they don’t give up a lot of points, really solid.”

Loyola has averaged 35 points per game in 12 regular season and playoff games. The Ramblers scored 42, 56, 37 and 46 points, respectively, in their first four games of the season. Much of the scoring came from lead running back Marco Maldonado, who broke his collarbone at the end of the team’s game against Brother Rice in Week 4 and hasn’t played since.

Even without Maldonado, Loyola averaged 29.88 points per game, with different running backs stepping in and the strong play of junior quarterback Jake Stearney.

On Saturday, Loyola finished with 257 total yards of offense with Stearney throwing for 178 yards but only scored three points off of a Mike Baker 32-yard field goal late in the second quarter.

The Ramblers’ longest drive of the game was their first when they ran 16 plays before Charles Nevinger intercepted a Stearney pass. Their second longest drive used 13 plays and ended with Baker’s made field goal.

While Holecek credited Lincoln-Way East’s strong defense, the Ramblers committed holding penalties that stalled drives. After a game like Saturday, Stearney and the offense are confident they can fix their issues before taking on Lockport on Saturday.

“Next week, you’ll see a whole new offense,” Stearney said. “I can guarantee that.”

‘Emotional’ program win

Fenwick’s Class 5A quarterfinal win over Nazareth on Saturday was special for many different reasons.

For many Friars, they bested friends and neighbors they grew up playing against.

The win also secured the fourth semifinal appearance in program history, the first since 2016.

For all the Fenwick players, the win brought them one week closer to realizing their dreams of winning a state title, while also getting a chance to be together for another week.

“It was emotional,” Fenwick coach Matt Battaglia said. “A lot of our kids ended up playing against a school with lots of neighboring kids. It was a big, prideful win for us.”

Fenwick’s return to the semifinals came in a year where players learned from two tough losses and applied them during their postseason run. The Friars’ first loss came against Providence where the Celtics escaped with a 21-20 win. The second loss came in a heartbreaker to Class 8A top-seeded Loyola, which won 27-24 in the last seconds off of a field goal.

The Friars have won seven straight games since that lost to the Ramblers, including a critical game against St. Ignatius for the CCL/ESCC White division title. Fenwick opened the playoffs with a 50-14 win over Kaneland before taking down Boylan Catholic 24-14 in the second round.

Despite the run of success, the Friars know there’s still more work left to be done. No one is worried about what the potential matchups could be in a state title game. For now, everyone is focused on Saturday’s opponent: Sycamore.

At the end of the spring season, the coaches and players put together their goal of winning a state championship in the fall. While moments like the quarterfinal win over Nazareth are special, everyone is focused on what’s left to be done.

“We’ve done a great job of keeping everything under perspective and taking it day-by-day,” Battaglia said. “I’ve been tremendously impressed with the kids with how they’ve approached it, just doing their best each day and not worrying about what they can’t control.”

CCL/ESCC Blue dominance

The CCL/ESCC Blue division teams continued to show why they might play in the toughest division in the state.

Three of the four teams advanced to their respective semifinals, with the lone team that lost, Mount Carmel, ending its season to division rival Brother Rice.

Loyola advanced to the Class 8A semifinals after its 3-0 win over Lincoln-Way East while Marist moved on to the other Class 8A semifinal after the Redhawks defeated Glenbrook South 51-21. Brother Rice advanced to the Class 7A semifinals after it defeated Mount Carmel 41-28 on Saturday.

Loyola and Marist have a chance to meet in the Class 8A title game. The Ramblers will need to defeat Lockport and the Redhawks will need to take down Maine South this weekend in order for that to happen.

Brother Rice will try to return to the Class 7A title game when it takes on Wheaton North on Saturday afternoon.

All-State players

The CCL/ESCC featured 13 athletes when the IHSFCA All-State lists were announced Tuesday.

James Kreutz (Loyola) and Deuce McGuire (Mairst) made the Class 8A list while Jack Lausch (Brother Rice) and Djabril McNabb (St. Rita) qualified for the Class 7A list.

Fenwick featured two athletes, Kaden Cobb and Jimmy Liston, on the Class 5A list, while Jacob Bottarini (Marmion), Quentrell Harris (Nazareth) and Carson Eggebraten (St. Viator) each joined that list.

Vinny Iannantone and Aidan Voss each qualified on the Class 4A list for Joliet Catholic and Luke Dalton joined them from Marian Central.

Montini Catholic’s Michael Carver made the Class 3A list.