WILMETTE — Tom Walsh stood on the field Saturday and soaked up his son’s turn in the spotlight.
The proud father watched as senior quarterback Aidan Walsh fielded questions from media members after leading eighth-seeded Loyola to a 37-20 home win over ninth-seeded Warren in the first round of the Class 8A football playoffs.
The Ramblers play at top-seeded Stevenson in the second round next weekend. The game is tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday. The two teams met in the Class 8A semifinals last year in Lincolnshire, and the Ramblers earned a trip to the title game with a 15-14 victory.
In his third start of the season and third of his varsity career, the 6-1, 185-pound Aidan Walsh played his best game, finishing 13-for-16 for 173 yards with two passing touchdowns and no turnovers. His 20-yard scoring run through the middle of the field with 9 minutes, 57 seconds left in the third quarter lifted Loyola to a lead it would never relinquish.
“We are incredibly happy with how he’s handled himself all season,” Tom Walsh said. “He’s always had a good attitude, and he finally got his chance.”
Aidan Walsh started the season as the third-string quarterback behind senior DJ Melsheimer and junior Emmett Clifford. Injuries to both resulted in Aidan Walsh’s promotion to the starting job in Week 8 against St. Rita. Before then, Aidan Walsh’s biggest moment on the field was when he threw a game-winning, two-point pass from his place-holder position in the Ramblers’ 29-28 overtime victory over Edwardsville in Week 2.
But coaches and teammates have said Aidan Walsh always treated every practice like he was going to be the starter, even when his primary role on game days was playing on special teams.
“He’s been preparing for this his whole life,” said senior receiver Spencer Cecola, whose 46-yard catch set up Aidan Walsh’s go-ahead touchdown run. “He’s as capable as anyone we have, and we have all the confidence in him.”
Aidan Walsh found four receivers Saturday, connecting with each of them for at least two completions. Senior tight end Bobby Walker had five catches for 57 yards and one touchdown, the team’s only one of the first half. Cecola caught four passes for 94 yards and one touchdown, a 26-yarder at the 6:05 mark of the third quarter that gave the Ramblers (8-2) a 30-12 lead over the Blue Devils (7-3).
“We saw we could take advantage of certain things, and the deep ball proved to be one of those things,” Aidan Walsh said. “I have a pretty good connection with all of the receivers, and I trust any one of them.”
Senior receiver Owen Buscaglia, Loyola’s leading pass-catcher, was shut out after two touchdown receptions were negated for offensive pass interference, including a 70-yard strike on the first play of the second half. Despite those penalties, Aidan Walsh said he maintained his composure under center.
“I think that is what the coaches admire about him,” Tom Walsh said of his son. “He’s always been positive. He also made sure he always studied film and worked hard in practice and waited for his turn.”
Aidan Walsh, who hadn’t been a regular starting quarterback since freshman season, is 41-for-63 for 472 yards for the year. He has two touchdowns and one interception. He’s also rushed for 206 yards and one score. All of it was accomplished against three playoff-bound opponents.
From place-holder in Week 1 to playoff-winning quarterback, Aidan Walsh said he has enjoyed the journey so far.
“It’s been fun, and I hope I’ve shown I will do anything to help out this team,” Aidan Walsh said. “Hopefully, we can do this again.”
• Loyola trailed Warren 12-10 at the half, but the Ramblers scored on their first series of the third quarter to lead 16-12. They then forced four turnovers to run away with the game. Senior cornerback Mark Dowdle, who gave up a 69-yard touchdown pass to senior Caleb Reams on the third play of the first quarter, intercepted two passes in the third quarter intended for the 6-3, 238-pound Illinois recruit.
• Loyola junior Dara Laja carried the ball 16 times for 123 yards. The Ramblers ran for 266 yards.
• Warren junior Darrius Crump ran 20 times for 177 yards and scored two touchdowns, one from 65 yards and another from 12 yards.