Santa Claus came to town last weekend. More than a few versions did, actually. Dozens of rabid Loyola Academy student fans donned red-and-white Saint Nicholas garb for a Class 8A second-round football playoff game against visiting Glenbard West High School on November 9.
Loyola Academy junior defensive back Marty Auer did not pout, did not cry, and we’re telling you why: Because the Glenview resident made a pivotal play in the fourth quarter, intercepting a pass—his fourth pick of the season—to set up the Ramblers’ game-winning touchdown in a 28-27 victory in Wilmette.Auer downplayed his feat, essentially calling it a gift nearly seven weeks before Christmas Day.“It wasn’t that amazing,” Auer said. “The football bounced off the receiver’s arms and, all of sudden, there it was, in my hands.”Eighteenth-seeded and reigning Class 8A state champion Loyola Academy (8-3) then produced a 58-yard scoring drive, capped by a one-yard touchdown run from junior running back Vaughn Pemberton with 3:10 remaining, to overcome its second double-digit deficit of the game against the second-seeded Hilltoppers (10-1).
Loyola Academy hosts 23rd-seeded Marist (7-4) in a state quarterfinal November 16 at 12:30 p.m.
“He’s a playmaker; that’s why he’s there,” Loyola Academy coach John Holecek said of Auer, who has played cornerback and safety this season. “It’s uncanny how often Marty makes big plays for us.”
The biggest special-teams play of the day was LA junior Aidan Brownlee’s 99-yard kickoff return for a TD at the start of the second half. The wide receiver secured the pigskin and planted a foot inches from the goal line before blasting off for a score that cut Glenbard West’s lead to 14-13.
“As I ran upfield, I saw a hole, and I hit it,” Brownlee said.
His thrilling trip generated deafening cheers—along with a chorus of Ho Ho Hos from a certain section in the bleachers—in the first 15 seconds of the third quarter.
Pemberton finished with 129 yards rushing on a hefty 33 carries. The first of his two TD bursts covered four yards with four seconds left in the first half.
“Vaughn,” Holecek said, “is a total difference-maker. He plays with such emotion and enthusiasm. He’s all go all the time.”
Ramblers quarterback JT Thomas, yet another impactful junior, completed 13-of-17 passes for 125 yards, including a five-yard TD strike to senior wide receiver Matthew Mangan at 11:06 of the final quarter.