ELMHURST – In search of the first state trip in program history, York finally encountered an opponent Nov. 19 it couldn’t overcome.
That foe was perennial powerhouse Loyola, which ended the Dukes’ perfect season with a 30-3 Class 8A state semifinal victory in Elmhurst.
In advancing to their seventh title game since 2011, the Ramblers (12-1) will take on Lincoln-Way East on Saturday in Champaign.
“It’s an unreal feeling,” said Loyola senior defensive lineman Brooks Bahr, a Michigan recruit. “We prepared all season for this. Ever since last season when we lost to Lockport in the semis, we had this date locked into the calendar. We played our butts off and now we are going to state.”
The Ramblers held York to 35 yards rushing and 99 yards passing and received two touchdown runs from Johnny McGuire and three fields goals from Michael Baker. Quarterback Jake Stearney found Corey Larsen for a 70-yard score.
“We couldn’t draw it up any better,” said Loyola coach John Holecek, whose team won state titles in 2015 and 2018. “It was a well-executed game plan. Everything kind of fell into place. The Catholic League prepares you for physical, nasty football. You don’t see many weaklings so that prepares you for physical, tough games.”
For York (12-1), the lasting memories from a storybook season won’t just be their lofty achievements, which included a first-ever perfect regular season, a program record 12 victories and a third trip to the semifinals (their first since 2006). The memories also will be the unbreakable bond between the players and the coaches.
“Hopefully in a few days,” senior quarterback Matt Vezza said, “we will be able to take time to reflect on how special this season was and how special this group is. And hopefully the underclassmen can keep this going. I want to come back and watch this team play in a state championship.
“We had a great season and hopefully we can appreciate that in the coming days. Everybody was committed to the same goal and that was to win a state championship. We had 90-plus kids moving in the same direction and that made it special. Everyone wanted to win and succeed.”
The Dukes, who trailed 17-3 at halftime, got a 22-yard field goal by Damian Glodz midway through the second quarter.
“We’ve been playing together for so long,” said Dukes senior wide receiver Charlie Specht, who caught three passes for 25 yards. “No matter what the outcome was, I wouldn’t want it to end with any other group of guys. We’ve grown up together and been in every situation on the football field together.”
Anthony Mancini hauled in two receptions for 38 yards for the Dukes, who yielded just 143 total points in a season that included the outright West Suburban Silver championship.
“You can tell our program is built on love, not fear,” said York coach Mike Fitzgerald, whose program has a record of 22-3 over its past 25 games. “This senior group did everything I asked them to do and I can’t imagine them not being at practice the next time we practice. They do things the right way and I’m not surprised by the results because of the type of character they have. They will leave a lasting legacy. Their influence will be felt for years to come.
“Loyola is a great football team and they have a great program. That’s what we are trying to work to be and I think we are closing the gap.”