Air Loyola wasn’t quite ready for take-off on Saturday afternoon
In their run to the Class 8A title game last year, the Ramblers rode a passing game led by veteran quarterback Malcolm Weaver and maybe the state’s deepest receivers corps. That team averaged around 24 passes and 192 air yards per game.
Loyola used a much different formula in its 2012 opener, relying on a grind-it-out ground game and an air-tight defense to beat Simeon 20-0 in Wilmette.
Peter Pujals, a starting receiver last year who has inherited the quarterback job from Weaver, threw effectively if less frequently than his predecessor. He completed 8 of 12 passes for 85 yards and also ran for a touchdown.
But the more typical call on Saturday was a handoff to a pair of big backs: 6-1, 200-pound junior Julius Holley (14 carries, 55 yards, TD) and 5-11, 200-pound senior Ryan Ribordy (14 carries, 42 yards).
Not huge numbers, but just what the Ramblers needed this time out with a trip to Ireland up next to play a Dallas Jesuit team featuring four Big 12 recruits.
“I think the pressure was on to really make a statement here and win going into Week 2 — the unknown, the ridiculous team we’re playing,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “We really needed a win. I think everyone sensed that.”
The easiest path to that result did not go through Simeon’s secondary, a big, physical group that is the heart of the Wolverines’ defense. So the game plan was ground-oriented, which was fine with Pujals.
“We’ve got good running backs, the O-line’s good,” he said. “We want to be an all-around team. That’s our goal.”
And the formations reflected that.
“We do a lot more two-back [sets] this year,” Pujals said. “It’s just different personnel. We have different people than last year so we are using what we’ve got to their … strength.”
The Ramblers actually may unleash Pujals down the road. “You want to give us E.J. Webb and Charlie Dowdle” — two tall, speedy receivers from recent seasons — “we can do some things,” Holecek said. “We’re going to match up much better at times, but they had some great personnel and they were bringing some heat so we got locked down.
“We’re going to change up some things, but I think that’s more our style this year.”
So too is a defense that held Simeon to three first downs and 59 net yards while sacking Wolverines quarterback Elcee Burke five times.
“I think we played well,” said lineman Jack Rushin, who had three sacks. “Zero points speaks for itself. … We didn’t play a perfect game. I think that’s what we aim for every week … to play perfect. But it was a good start for the season.”
It was a rough start for Public League favorite Simeon, but coach Dante Culbreath expects better days ahead.
He liked the defensive effort, which produced three turnovers and twice forced Loyola to settle for field goals by Robert Reedy.
“I said before the season started, that’s kind of our strongest point,” said Culbreath, who started a freshman and a sophomore on the offensive line. “We’ve got a lot of young guys offensively and that really showed. Some of my older kids didn’t make the plays we needed them to make also.”