CHICAGO -- Loyola would have been content with one celebration on Friday night, but with the way the No. 14 Ramblers’ 24-21 upset win over No. 2 St. Rita played out, they were given two opportunities to enjoy their first Catholic League championship in 17 years.
The Ramblers first began mobbing each with hugs and high-fives after linebacker Dillon Murphy picked off a pass and returned it for 60-yard touchdown to give Loyola a 24-7 advantage late in the second quarter. The lead appeared insurmountable at the time, and the Ramblers celebrated as if they knew they had already won the game.
Murphy was as jacked as anyone on the sideline after his score. When he intercepted the pass, he assumed someone from St. Rita (8-1) would get him before the end zone. They never did. Murphy also never expected that it would be Loyola’s last score of the game.
“I was looking around for somebody to come get me, but I had blocking,” Murphy said. “Our offense picks us up every week, so I thought they would score again. But our defense, we knew we had to step up this week playing a great offense in St. Rita.”
St. Rita, which despite the loss earned a share of the conference title along with Loyola and Mount Carmel, made it a game in second half.
After closing out the second quarter with a 23-yard field goal by Stan Sojka, St. Rita pulled within 24-13 on Sojka’s 38-yarder in the third quarter. The Mustangs then minimized the deficit to 24-21 with 6:28 left in the game when Jahwon Akui rushed in from eight yards, and Brandon Johnson connected with Tim Gorski for the 2-point conversion.
St. Rita kicked the ball off after the touchdown and held Loyola (8-1) on three consecutive plays. It looked as if the Mustangs would be getting the ball back quickly, but for the second time on the night Ramblers coach John Holecek called for a fake punt.
James Bonner took the snap and threw a first-down pass to Scotty Suhey.
“I thought if we gave it back, they were going to come down the field,” Holecek said. “The momentum was there. I thought if we give it back to them, there was a really good chance that they would march and score. There was a lot of time, and all of the momentum was theirs. I know it was an all-or-nothing thing.”
St. Rita eventually forced Loyola to punt again four plays later. The Mustangs took over at their 15-yard line with 3:12 remaining. They moved the ball to Loyola’s 42 with a minute remaining, when Ramblers defensive lineman Mark Sullivan hit Johnson as he threw the ball, and Daveed Carter intercepted the pass.
With that, the Ramblers celebrated in grand fashion for the second time.
“This is excellent,” said Loyola quarterback Malcolm Weaver, who threw two touchdowns in the first half. “We came in knowing that people had us projected to lose this game, but you can’t look at that. You got to look at what your team can do. We knew St. Rita was a very good team, and we would have to come out working on all cylinders and we did.”
Akui, who didn’t play in the first quarter, rushed for 120 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries.
Loyola wide receiver E.J. Webb had seven catches for 89 yards and one touchdown.
Bonner also had an interception and forced and recovered a fumble.