Last-second field goal lifts Loyola over Providence

A big part of Loyola’s game plan Saturday was to put as much pressure as possible on Providence quarterback Justin Hunniford.

On an unseasonably cool and wet afternoon in Wilmette, the Ramblers routinely harassed the senior into hurried decisions and never let him get comfortable in the pocket. The strategy resulted in a 10-7 win and kept No. 15-ranked Loyola in the running for the Catholic Blue championship, something the Ramblers have earned in each of the last four seasons.

“It was a team defensive effort,” Loyola senior defensive lineman Mark Nichol said. “Our defensive backs and linebackers gave us great coverage, and that allowed us to get after the quarterback. It takes all of us.”

Down 7-0 at the half, Loyola (5-1, 1-1) finally forced the turnover it needed late in third quarter. Senior nose guard Andrews Beniana stripped the ball from Hunniford in the backfield and recovered it at Providence’s 10-yard line. Three plays later, Nichol scored on a 1-yard run to even the score at 7-7 with 11:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.

After holding the No. 3 Celtics (5-1, 2-1) to minus-4 yards and two punts on the next two possessions, Loyola embarked on a 13-play, game-winning drive that ran the remaining seven minutes off the clock and concluded with senior Mike Kurzydlowski’s 22-yard field goal.

Nichol finished with five tackles for losses, including four in the first half. Loyola senior defensive lineman Tom Dreher was in on two sacks and had a pass deflection, and senior linebacker Brian O’Brien had one sack, one tackle for loss and one pass deflection.

“Nichol is a fantastic edge rusher, and we are learning he can run a little bit,” said Loyola coach John Holecek, who uses Nichol and senior linebacker Cal Falkenhayn in short-yard situations on offense.

In coverage, Loyola senior cornerback Mark Dowdle and the secondary did the job by limiting Providence senior receiver Miles Boykin, a 6-4, 225-pound Notre Dame recruit, to three catches for 46 yards and no touchdowns.

“We did not want to let their stud beat us,” Holecek said.

Providence’s lone touchdown was set up by senior defensive back Dan Miller’s interception midway through the second quarter. Hunniford got the Celtics on the scoreboard with his 3-yard run with 4:47 to go before the break.

A win would have clinched the Celtics at least a share of their first conference championship since 2009, the same season they took second place in Class 6A. They now must wait until their Oct. 17 home game against Brother Rice (5-1), which is 2-0 in league play after Friday’s 26-17 win over Mount Carmel.

“Loyola’s defense did some good things on defense and pressured our quarterback quite a bit,” Providence coach Mark Coglianese said. “When it’s two great teams, it comes down to the little things. We have got to shore up some things.”

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