They are … The Avengers.
Most experts agreed that Maine South would need a super-heroic effort to beat No. 1 Loyola Academy in the Class 8A state title game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Nov. 26.
Maine South’s Hawks, seeded No. 26 in the playoff bracket, did just that, overcoming a 14-10 halftime deficit and stunning LA 27-17. They were the Marvel-ous ones.
It was Maine South’s sixth state title in program history.
It was LA’s first loss in 30 games dating back to the 2014 season, when the Ramblers won the Prep Bowl.
“Obviously, a new experience for us,” said LA head coach John Holecek, who guided the Ramblers to a Class 8A state title last fall in DeKalb. “We got beat tonight. It’s painful. We didn’t do enough to win.”
In their run to the state title, the Hawks, with apologies to the American comic book series circa early 1960s, avenged two regular-season losses, including a 44-43 setback to Loyola in Week Two.
Two weeks ago, in a state quarterfinal game, the Hawks got revenge against Barrington 42-27 — after losing to the Broncos 41-27 in Week Three.
The only loss that Maine South (11-3) could not avenge was a CSL South setback to New Trier.
The state championship game started in worrisome fashion for Loyola (13-1). Junior running back Fotis Koksioulis had runs of 25 and 46 yards on Maine South’s opening scoring drive.
But, before you could say, “Fotis for POTUS (President of the United States),” LA running back Kyle Rock answered Koksioulis and the Hawks with a 56-yard TD run on LA’s fourth play of the game to knot things up 7-7.
“Whoa, I thought, ‘Here we go again,’ ” said Maine South head coach David Inserra, referring to the 87-point showdown in the teams’ first meeting this fall.
Instead of the scoreboard exploding, the game settled down into more of a defensive struggle.
In typical fashion, the Ramblers closed out the first half with an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive to head into intermission with a 14-10 advantage. Prior to senior Jake Marwede’s one-yard score with 13 seconds left in the first half, the series featured first-down receptions by Rock (19 yards) and David Terrell (17 yards).
“We’ve been very successful with our two-minute drill,” said Holecek. “It’s been a recipe for success all season.”
Despite a huge outing by Rock (21 rushes, 155 yards), LA’s offense never shifted into high gear. The Ramblers lone score in the second half was a 34-yard field goal by Patrick Kramer with 12 seconds left in third quarter to make it a 17-17 game.
“[Rock] gives us everything he has,” said Holecek. “Pound for pound, he’s one of the toughest guys we have.”
The hockey-playing 5-foot-10, 175-pound Rock, a defenseman, usually doesn’t do a lot in LA’s aerial game. But, with the LA offense coming up with some new wrinkles and new formations, Rock caught four passes for 40 yards.
The No. 1 receiver was No. 1 David Terrell. The senior caught five passes for 76 yards from senior quarterback Tommy Herion (11-19-1, 159 yards). His niftiest grab was that toe-tucking 17-yarder at Maine South one-yard line just before halftime that led to Marwede’s score.
Maine South, meanwhile, had three major difference makers: Kokosioulis (18 rushes, 112 yards), quarterback Nick Leongas (20 rushes, 100 yards, 2 TDs) and Sean McNulty (two field goals).
“Those two [Kokosioulis and Leongas] are very effective running the ball,” said LA senior cornerback Ian Swenson, who finished the game with six tackles and two pass breakups. “And [McNulty] was everywhere.”
The Hawks tallied 10 fourth-quarter points. Following a costly LA turnover, Leongas raced into the end zone with 10:22 remaining in the game.
Ten minutes later, they sealed the win on McNulty’s 18-yard field goal.
LA’s leading tacklers were senior inside linebackers Anthony Romano (9) and Graham Repp (9). Sophomore safety Jake Gonzalez had a team-high seven solo tackles.
Romano finished with two sacks and two other tackles-for-loss, while junior defensive lineman Marty Geary had one sack.