Class 8A State Playoffs: 2nd Round
Loyola vs. Stevenson
— Stevenson High School’s reign as Class 8A state champions ended up being a one-year deal.
Host Loyola Academy made sure of that, when the No. 1 seeded Ramblers routed the Patriots 49-0 in a second round playoff game in front of a big crowd on Nov. 7.
In this one, LA (11-0) reigned supreme in all phases of the game. The running clock went into effect early in the third quarter.
“We were worried about them all week,” LA head coach John Holecek said. “We had no ideal that the game would go this way.”
The revenge factor definitely was in effect. In last year’s Class 8A second round game, the Ramblers lost a 24-21 decision to Stevenson, and Patriots went on to win the state crown. In 2013, LA edged Stevenson 15-14 in the state semifinals.
“There’s not a lot of love between us,” said Holecek. “We expect to see them (in the state playoffs) every year.”
Thanks to a splendid outing by senior Dara Laja, who recently received a scholarship offer from Valparaiso, LA’s running game was in high gear. The senior star rolled up 224 yards on 18 carries. His eye-popping run came on LA’s third series, when he broke free and did some high-stepping on his way to a 62-yard TD run.
“He’s a big-time back,” said Holecek, who watched Laja break the career rushing record at the school in a Week 9 win over Mount Carmel. “He’s special. He finds a hole and explodes through it.”
Receiver Eric Eshoo opened the scoring for the Ramblers. The Northwestern recruit burned the Stevenson secondary, when he went on top and hauled in a 20-yard TD pass from Emmett Clifford. Eshoo ended the game with four catches for 61 yards.
Fellow wideout Jonah Isaac, meanwhile, had a dazzling play on the opening drive of the second half, when he ran under a Clifford pass down the middle of the field, made a cut after the catch and sprinted into the end zone on a 62-yard gain.
Clifford’s outing basically was flawless. Winner of the Chicago Catholic League Blue Division Lawless Award, the senior completed 8 of 8 passes for 153 yards with no interceptions. He also carried the ball seven times for 50 yards with TD runs of 13 and five yards.
LA’s other scores came on runs: a 5-yard gain by Kyle Rock and a 1-yard run by Jake Marwede. Patrick Tata was 7 for 7 on PAT kicks.
Holecek had concerns with Stevenson quarterback Jack Sorenson, a terrific athlete who also lines up at safety.
“They’ve got a talented offense. They’ve scored a lot of points against a lot of good teams,” Holecek said. “I thought it was pretty remarkable that we were able to contain their quarterback.”
The Patriots (7-4) were limited to 113 total yards (90 in the air, 43 on the ground). They had only nine first downs and never entered LA’s Red Zone.
LA had plenty of defensive standouts. Graham Repp and Jack Hough forced fumbles. John Shannon had an interception. Anthony Romano had two quarterback sacks, while Ben LeRoy had one. Four players — Tata, Jack Bourke, Joey Zitella and Patrick Schafer — recorded tackles for loss.