CCL/ESCC notes: Loyola focuses on improvements despite 44-20 win over St. Xavier (Ohio) on ESPN

Loyola Academy quarterback Jake Stearney (15) passes the ball during the second quarter of an IHSA Class 8A quarterfinal football game at Loyola Academy High School on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. The Ramblers won, 3-0.

John Holecek isn’t ready to start celebrating after Loyola defeated St. Xavier (Ohio), 44-20, in front of a national audience on Sunday.

The Ramblers put together a strong performance in their season opener against one of the top teams in Ohio, but Holecek knows there’s still plenty of work left to do after just one game.

“It’s good to get the first one under our belt, especially with so many new guys on defense,” the Loyola coach said. “I feel like we had a solid foundation and hopefully it’ll continue to get better.”

Loyola’s defense returned three starters from last season’s team but didn’t show any growing pains in its first test of the year. The Ramblers played within their scheme and tackled hard — the Bombers didn’t score offensively until there was 9:23 left in the game.

Holecek didn’t feel like his team’s run defense was tested since St. Xavier had to focus its offensive efforts on the passing game with Loyola running out to an early large lead.

The coach was proud of the way his starting quarterback responded to adversity. Jake Stearney threw an interception that the Bombers returned for an interception to make the game a 14-7 Loyola lead with 9:35 left in the first quarter, but the senior quarterback regrouped and went on to finish the day with 252 passing yards and four touchdowns.

“I knew it wasn’t going to phase him,” Holecek said. “He’s as professional and detailed as you’re going to get in a high school quarterback.”

Loyola won’t let there be a drop off in intensity between the season-opener and its Week 2 matchup against East Moline United on Saturday. There are still plenty of things that the Rambler coaching staff wants to fix as it prepares to enter a tough stretch where Loyola plays St. Rita and Brother Rice in Week 3 and 4, respectively.

“We have to get better,” Holecek said. “In the Catholic League Blue, we have some tough battles coming up in a few weeks. We’re not going to overlook Moline or Brother Rice, or St. Rita. Every day is going to be the same thing: get better.”

‘Exciting night’ for St. Patrick

Luke Mertens was proud of how St. Patrick came together against St. Ignatius to win, 19-14, on Friday after an offseason of change.

“To be able to open the season with a win against an awesome opponent like that, it was a really exciting night,” Mertens said.

The Wolfpack came back after trailing 13-7 at halftime to score a touchdown to make it 14-13 with 5:12 left in the third quarter. But the Shamrocks drove down the field and scored a touchdown before missing the extra point to take a 19-14 lead with 10 seconds left in the third quarter.

St. Ignatius drove into the red zone with 3:48 left in the game and to the St. Patrick 36-yard line with 47 seconds left in the game, but the Shamrocks defense stopped both threats to preserve the win.

Mertens credited inside linebackers Keith Hoffman and Jack Clancy and safety Jack Fuller for making sure the defense was prepared to make stops while the Shamrock offensive line stopped Wolfpack star defensive lineman Justin Scott from taking over the game.

“So many people contributed,” Mertens said. “The amount of people that played in the game, the amount of people that had tackles, the amount of people that made the stat lines makes it a great team win.”

St. Patrick will turn its attention to a heated rivalry game against Niles Notre Dame on Friday in Niles. Mertens knows the importance of the rivalry as a Shamrock alumnus, but he also doesn’t want to put all of his team’s energy into one opponent.

“There’s not a break anywhere in our nine weeks,” Mertens said. “It’s bring your A-game every single week. We knew that going into the season. We had a great opponent last weekend and we have a great opponent this weekend.”

Old-school, Mount Carmel defense

Mount Carmel showed off the type of defense it wants to play in its 35-3 win over St. Rita on Friday.

The Caravan limited the Mustangs to a 51-yard field goal as Mount Carmel’s fast defense became too much for an inexperienced offense.

“It’s old-school, Mount Carmel defense,” linebacker Danny Novickas said after the game. “It works, it worked tonight and it definitely had a mental effect on the other team.”

Mount Carmel swarmed to the ball with 11 players always rushing to the ball on every play. St. Rita running back DJ Stewart rushed for 31 yards while quarterback Jett Hilding completed one of his five pass attempts and rushed for 42 yards.

“Fast, swarm to the ball, relentless,” Mount Carmel coach Jordan Lynch said of his defense. “You’ve got starters playing special teams, you’ve got Danny Novickas running down a kickoff, tackling people in the third quarter. It’s incomparable.”

Offensive struggles for St. Rita

St. Rita’s inexperienced offense showed it still has some things to fix in the Mustangs’ loss to Mount Carmel to open the season.

The offense only scored three points off of a 51-yard field goal from Conor Talty as it struggled to find momentum against an experienced defense.

“It’s a feeling out process right now of what we can do,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “You don’t want to do it in a big game like this against a great opponent but that’s what happens.”

The Mustangs offense featured a new quarterback in Hilding and new wide receivers with some missing offensive linemen who couldn’t play due to injuries. Hilding struggled to gain momentum and the offensive line couldn’t create holes for its running backs as St. Rita went three-and-out six times in the game.

Kuska felt like everyone played a role in the offense’s inability to move the ball and the Mustangs will need to learn quickly as they’ll face Marist on Friday and Loyola the following week.

“When you start a lot of young guys against a veteran crew, things can go wrong,” Kuska said. “We’ll be better and come back to it, get some more experience under our belts. That’s why we play a brutal schedule.”

Marist’s Dermot Smyth regroups

Marist coach Ron Dawczak was happy with the way Dermot Smyth responded after a tough start as the RedHawks’ quarterback.

“He stayed the course and made plays like he made plays for us all summer like we knew he would,” Dawczak said. “He’s a tremendous athlete and great leader for our team and I knew he was going to rebound from that slow start.”

Smyth threw an interception on his second pass attempt in a 33-31 loss to Glenbard West on Saturday and then fumbled the ball away on the next drive. The Hitters ran out to a quick 21-0 lead because of the turnovers.

The senior quarterback regrouped and finished the day with 252 passing yards and one touchdown, almost leading Marist back to a win on two late-game drives.

Dawczak is looking forward to see how his team practices this week as it prepares to travel to Oak Lawn Richards on Friday.

“The key is to not make those same mistakes next week so we can continue to get better each week,” Dawczak said.

Perfect start for Purple, Red divisions

All of the teams in the CCL/ESCC Purple and Red divisions won their season openers with some wins against other teams in the conference.

In the Purple, St. Viator picked up the biggest win when it defeated De La Salle, 35-7, while St. Patrick earned the most-impressive win when it took down St. Ignatius, 19-14. Carmel won in nonconference action by taking down Antioch, 24-21, while Marian Catholic and new coach Nick Lopez picked up a 41-14 win over Thornwood.

Leo took down Bulls College Prep, 32-6, in the Red while DePaul started the season with a 42-21 win over Payton College Prep.

Week 2 will have some interesting matchups with St. Patrick taking on rival Notre Dame while Carmel will host Lake Forest. Leo will travel to Marian Catholic on Thursday, St. Viator will host Clark and DePaul will play at Amundsen on Friday.