State final preview: Loyola vs. Naperville Central

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Class 8A final: No. 1 Loyola (12-1) vs. No. 7 Naperville Central (10-3) at Huskie Stadium, DeKalb, 7 p.m. Saturday

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jack Penn, Loyola — The senior quarterback didn’t have his best game of the season in Saturday’s 15-14 win over Stevenson, but the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder made the plays when it mattered most. His 34-yard pass to senior Fran O’Malley set up Loyola’s first touchdown, and he later connected with senior Joe Joyce for the second score and subsequent two-point conversion that won the game. Penn finished 11-for-18 for 114 yards with two interceptions and one TD. He ran 13 times for 45 yards.

Julius Holley, Loyola — The 6-0, 200-pound Holley was the workhorse that the Ramblers needed to beat the Patriots on a windy, cold day in Lincolnshire when throwing the ball proved to be a challenge. The senior running back had 27 carries for 95 yards and scored the game’s first TD on a 1-yard run. More than half of his runs came on Loyola’s two scoring drives, and he didn’t have one negative carry.

Jake Kolbe, Naperville Central — An Illinois State commit, the senior quarterback leads a balanced offensive attack. The 6-3, 200-pounder threw for 225 yards and a TD and ran for another score in the team’s 27-21 win over Marist on Saturday. For the season, Kolbe has passed for 2,106 yards and thrown only three interceptions in 302 attempts.

Michael Kolzow, Naperville Central — Oftentimes, the 6-2, 175-pound receiver is the best athlete on the field. The junior also returns kickoffs and punts and has started playing in the secondary late in the season. Against Marist, he returned an interception for a TD in the first quarter and then picked off a pass in the fourth to secure the win. Kolzow also caught a TD pass and enters the title game with a team-best nine scoring receptions.

KEY MATCHUP

The team that controls the line of scrimmage and limits its turnovers has the advantage this late in the season. Both teams have a veteran offensive line, with Naperville Central starting five seniors. On the other side, Loyola senior Charlie Pontarelli is one of the best defensive lineman in the state. Loyola did itself no favors Saturday with four turnovers, one of which led to a Stevenson score, but that was out of character for the Ramblers this year.

ON THE OTHER SIDELINE

After finishing 4-5 a year ago, the Redhawks are in the championship game for the first time since 2001. They led 7-0 and then trailed 21-7 before rallying for the victory against Marist. Naperville Central, which has been coached by Mike Stine since 2006, last won a state championship in 1999, beating Schaumburg 56-31 to finish undefeated.

HISTORY

This is the second season in a row that a team from the DuPage Valley has played a team from the Catholic Blue for the Class 8A title. Last season, Mount Carmel beat Glenbard North 28-14 to give the Catholic Blue its sixth state championship since 2000, regardless of classification. The DVC has four titles during that stretch.

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