Before the game against Providence, Loyola football coach John Holecek spoke at length about how challenging it would be for the Ramblers to stop the Celtics.
He was correct.
Loyola didn’t do much to slow down Providence’s powerful offense Saturday, but the Ramblers did enough when — and where — it mattered most.
“It’s an extremely tough matchup,” Holecek said Friday. “They have five or six weapons on offense, too many to limit completely.”
Providence gained 418 yards of total offense, but Loyola shut out the Celtics six times in the red zone. The Ramblers also intercepted the ball three times as they earned a 28-16 win in the first game on the Catholic Blue schedule.
Senior linebacker Andrew Cerny picked off a pass midway through the third quarter and returned it 60 yards to set up Loyola’s go-ahead score.
“That’s how Loyola traditionally has been on defense,” said Cerny, who now has two interceptions on the season. “We want to get the ball back, not only by stopping teams on three-and-outs but by taking the ball away.
“That’s what we’ve done all season.”
Through its first four games, Loyola (4-0 overall, 1-0 conference) has 12 takeaways, including nine interceptions, and it has allowed only 44 points. Along with Cerny, senior defensive back Jack Gleason and junior defensive back Mark Dowdle also both have two interceptions. Gleason and senior defensive end John Kecki each have returned an interception for a touchdown.
“We have some talented kids on defense,” Gleason said. “Maybe we aren’t all Division I prospects, but we are disciplined and aggressive. We always are breaking on the ball.”
But the Ramblers realize there is work to be done, considering the Catholic Blue won’t get any easier. Loyola visits Brother Rice on Friday. The Crusaders gave Mount Carmel, the No. 1-ranked team in the Chicago Sun-Times’ area poll, a scare last week.
“We are never fully satisfied with our performances,” Gleason said. “I think, right now, our biggest thing is not making mental mistakes, making sure we are in the right gaps and each doing our own job.”
Cerny said Loyola needs to tighten up its run defense after Providence senior running back Dominic Lagone totaled 224 yards on 38 carries.
“I think going into the game we thought our passing defense needed work, but we made the right adjustments and did a good job there,” said Cerny, whose unit held the Celtics to 26 points below their season average. “I think our run defense was a little behind, so we will look to get more stout up front against the run.
“It’s all about making improvements every week.”