WILMETTE -- Nothing was going right for the Loyola Ramblers in the first half. Their offense struggled to find a rhythm. Their defense couldn’t contain the edge and let the Glenbard North Panthers’ runners find open space outside the hashes.
Loyola coach John Holecek needed to rally his players if they were going to stay undefeated and head to the Class 8A title game.
“We are not going to give up another point and the offense is going to score three times,” Holecek said he told his team at halftime.
Holecek just about nailed that prediction.
The Ramblers scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to beat the Panthers 28-13.
“We just had to come out and do the fundamentals,” defensive lineman Michael Scott, who registered a sack in the game, said. “We had to come out there harder. We knew what we had to lose playing our last game on this field. We came out emotional.”
The Panthers struck first when a Loyola punt deflected off a lineman and fell into the hands of linebacker Dominic Fornino, who ran it in for the touchdown.
Glenbard North then had its next two drives go deep into Loyola territory but only managed to get six points off those opportunities.
The Panthers saw success early on running outside of the tackles. Quarterback Brian Murphy, who left with an injury late in the fourth quarter, saw his share of big runs in the first half with gains of 12, 18, and 19 yards. The talented backfield duo of Phillip and Justin Jackson (15 carries 35 yards, 8 carries 23 yards respectively) were able to get their share of yards, but neither dashed for a big gain against what seemed like a bend-but-don’t-break defense in the first half for Loyola.
Loyola immediately set the tone in the second half on its first drive. The Ramblers marched 80 yards on eight plays to get their first points of the day. The play that swung the momentum in Loyola’s favor was a pass over the middle to senior running back William Palivos (16 carries 90 yards TD) who ran 33 yards down to the Panthers’ 21-yard line.
Palivos, who only saw a handful of carries in the first half, was able to find lanes in the second half, to balance out Loyola's aerial attack conducted by quarterback Malcom Weaver (14-26 175 yards 2 TDs INT).
“He’s a slippery, real good back,” Holecek said about Palivos. “Obviously, he can squirt you some holes. We are going to get him his touches no matter what.”
On a 4th-and-4 at the Panther 35-yard line to start the fourth quarter, Weaver threw one up for a streaking Charlie Dowdle, who came down with a beautiful one handed catch for a touchdown, giving Loyola the lead for good.
“It’s so fitting for him to make that kind of play on the last time he’s going to play on this field,” Holecek said.
“It was just a fly route,” Dowdle said. “We work on it all the time in practice. We just want to give our receivers a chance. Malcom does a great job.”
The key difference in the Loyola offense from the first to second half was their pace. Speeding the offense up took Glenbard North by surprise and ended up wearing them down by the end of the game.
Loyola, however, suffered a blow to their secondary when senior defensive back Scotty Suhey went down with a broken wrist in the fourth quarter, putting his chances of playing in the state championship game in jeopardy.
Player of the Game: Though nearly invisible in the first half, William Palivos appeared in a big way for his team in the second half. Going over 100 all-purpose yards for the game, Palivos broke arm tackles constantly, wearing down the Panthers’ defense.
It was over when: Charlie Dowdle did what he’s been doing all year: Making big plays. His spectacular one handed touchdown grab put the Ramblers on top for good to start the fourth quarter and the defense clamped down on the Panthers’ rushing attack.
Stat of the Day: 13 – The Ramblers won their 13th game this year, making it the most wins in a season in school history.
Quote of the Day: “We knew that Phil Jackson their running back was playing both ways, and if he wanted to stay playing both ways, we knew that we as an offense had to help out the defense by getting him a little tired. So, we tried to pick up the speed, which also ended up working for us,” – Quarterback Malcom Weaver on speeding up the offense in the second half.