Loyola strikes fast against Neuqua Valley
Beating a football team like Loyola Academy requires near perfection and a healthy roster.
That wasn't in the cards Saturday for Neuqua Valley.
Starting quarterback Ryan Mohler walked the sideline with a shoulder injury from the Wildcats' playoff opener against Palatine. Defensive lineman Justin Dutkiewicz was on crutches after a broken ankle in Week 9.
And Loyola was its dominant, unbeaten self, scoring three first-quarter touchdowns on the way to a 33-6 second-round victory in the Class 8A playoffs at Hoerster Field in Wilmette.
"When you play against a team like Loyola you've got to do everything you can to keep the game close and try to manage the game. It slipped away from us pretty early today with some big plays on their end," said Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus.
Neuqua quarterback Kiet Truong, pivotal in the Palatine game after Mohler went down, targeted Miles Miskel downfield on the Wildcats' first offensive play, but the bomb didn't connect until Cooper Lehman caught a 42-yard touchdown pass with 7:56 remaining.
"We were trying to go deep all game," Lehman said. "Just didn't have a bunch of time, it's a great D-line. But we battled hard against a very good team."
No. 1 seed Loyola (11-0) used a 35-yard Andrew MacPherson run to set up quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald's 1-yard touchdown sneak on the Ramblers' opening 77-yard possession.
Backing up the No. 16-seed Wildcats with an Ethan Hogg sack, Loyola quickly forced a punt and regained possession at the 42-yard line of Neuqua Valley (7-4).
Five plays later Fitzgerald found Brendan Loftus dragging the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown pass and 13-0 lead at 4:21 of the first quarter.
Less than two minutes later Loyola led 20-0 on Donovan Robinson's 64-yard punt return down the left sideline.
"Everything was working," said Loyola coach Beau Desherow, moving on to an 8A quarterfinal at No. 24 St. Ignatius.
"I really loved how our offense came out with that opening drive and set the tone," he said.
From there the pace slowed, though Neuqua ran only one first-half play in Loyola territory after Truong hit Miskel on a 17-yard pass early in the second quarter.
"We said, whether we're going to come back or not let's leave it all out on the field," said safety Hayden Foley. "This could be some of our last games, let's keep playing together, play as a unit, fly to the ball, keep having fun."
MacPherson scored on a 2-yard touchdown run for a 26-0 Ramblers halftime lead. Finn Miller's 2-yard touchdown run gave Loyola a 33-0 lead at 6:16 of the third quarter.
"Our kids didn't quit all night long," said Ellinghaus, such as Nick Pape's recovery of a punt that hit a Loyola player. That set up Lehman's score, the last in a season where Neuqua Valley won five straight games entering Saturday.
"I'm very proud of them for that," Ellinghaus said.
"It's been a ride," said Wildcats right guard Joe Mattia. "These boys, some of them have been playing for forever. You don't really want it to end. You never believe it's going to be the last game."