Loyola has won at least one game in the state football playoffs in all eight of coach John Holecek’s seasons. But the Ramblers, who beat Lane 48-7 on Saturday, continue to chase after their first state championship since 1993.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame has won at least one postseason game for a second consecutive season, although the Dons played in Class 6A last year. Notre Dame opened with a 28-14 win over Fremd on the road Nov. 1.
Saturday’s 6 p.m. game in Niles is the first between the Ramblers and Dons since 1995, a game Loyola won. Notre Dame coach Mike Hennessey was on the sideline for that game as he’s been in charge since 1989. John Hoerster was on the sideline for Loyola.
When Notre Dame has the ball …
After Chris James’ breakout junior season, Hennessey and his staff dedicated themselves during the offseason to making the Dons more dynamic on offense.
That was clear in Friday’s first-round victory over the Vikings as James ran 32 times for 243 yards and three touchdowns, and senior quarterback Ryan Greene went 13-for-24 for 156 yards and one touchdown. Seniors Pat Cravens, Dan Dietz and Tom Simon are capable receivers.
Hennessey said the offensive line — senior Mike Mulcrone, senior Nick Heine, junior Brian Brand, junior Frank Pavlik and freshman Juan Harris — must have one of its best games Saturday for the Dons (7-3) to be effective.
“They’ve been a work in progress all season, but they are getting better and better each week,” Hennessey said. “We have to win the time of possession, but that is the nature of most playoff games.”
Loyola’s defense has been defined as one that bends but doesn’t break. The Ramblers (9-1) also are opportunistic on defense, judging by their 16 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries. Junior safety Ryan Zinkula has five interceptions, while junior Mark Dowdle has four.
“We can’t give a running back like James any more extra carries,” Holecek said.
When Loyola has the ball …
Senior quarterback Jack Penn has developed into a dual threat signal-caller. He has run for 455 yards and four TDs and passed for 1,544 yards and 18 TDs.
Senior Joe Joyce and junior Owen Buscaglia have been the team’s two top targets, combining for 86 catches, 1,004 yards and 17 TDs. Seniors Joe Dixon and Fran O’Malley both have at least 20 catches.
Senior running back Julius Holley continues to get healthier. He ran for 71 yards on six carries in the first quarter against Lane.
“They are fundamentally sound and well-coached,” Hennessey said. “They blend good size with speed. I don’t see many weak points in what they do.”
Holecek echoed Hennessey’s belief that time of possession will be important to a team’s success.
Cravens, who also plays safety, could be a difference-maker in the secondary for the Dons. Seniors Dan Proano and Tom Sora lead the Dons at the linebacker position. Senior defensive lineman Chris Bargione had two sacks against Fremd.