It took people a while to get used to the idea that a Catholic League Blue team could win consistently largely without Division I prospects or returning starters.
That was the case outside of Loyola’s program anyway. Inside, the Ramblers always believed in coach John Holecek’s formula: a nimble quarterback plus an aggressive defense plus depth equals success.
“Defense is key here at Loyola,” senior linebacker Andrew Cerney said. “The older guys taught us well and they’ve been contacting us all the time, giving us words of wisdom and hyping us up.”
That helped on Saturday, when the Ramblers hosted No. 21 Providence, which has no shortage of go-to players on offense. But thanks to team coverage on junior receiving star Miles Boykin and a big day from quarterback Jack Penn, No. 3 Loyola came away with a 28-16 home win.
Penn completed 17 of 26 passes for 169 yards and three touchdowns — to three different receivers — and also ran 11 times for 97 yards.
Featured back Julius Holley returned after missing last week’s win over St. Ignatius (knee) and had 43 yards on 10 carries. He left with cramps midway through the third quarter, but backup Donnel Haley entered and had 55 yards and the game-clinching touchdown on 11 rushes.
Those contributions helped Loyola (4-0, 1-0 Catholic Blue) neutralize Providence’s playmakers. Dominic Lagone ran 38 times for 224 yards and caught six passes for 49 yards, while Justin Hunniford was 20-of-40 passing for 185 yards. Boykin, a 6-4, 230-pounder who already has offers from Illinois, Michigan State and Mississippi, caught six passes for 76 yards. He was often double-covered by Jack Gleason and Cal Falkenhayn.
“I thought offensively we played a great game,” Providence coach Mark Coglianese said. “We moved the ball up and down the field. We’ve just got to finish.”
Holecek, meanwhile, came away impressed and happy Providence’s 418 total yards didn’t result in more points.
“Their running back [Lagone] is terrific, the quarterback made really good decisions,” Holecek said. “We knew it was going to be challenging. I thought we’d have to outscore them because they’re that talented.”
That also was what Joe Joyce (six catches, 64 yards) was thinking.
“We saw their offense was really explosive so we knew they were going to score points,” said Joyce, who caught an eight-yard pass from Penn for Loyola’s first score with 10:38 left in the first half. “The [Loyola] offense had to put up some points too, which is different from what usually happens.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the teams went up and down the field in the second. First came Joyce’s TD, capping a 10-play, 99-yard drive. Lagone then scored from three yards out and Boykin hauled in a 26-yard TD pass to make it 14-7 Providence with 2:38 left in the half.
But Penn rallied the Ramblers, running 32, 13 and 12 yards on the first three plays of the next drive before hitting Joe Dixon with a 14-yard scoring pass 42 seconds before halftime.
Cerney’s 60-yard interception return set up the score that put Loyola up for good: Penn’s 11-yard pass to Owen Buscaglia with 5:25 left in the third. Holley had left the game four plays earlier, leaving Joyce “pretty worried” at first.
But Haley ran 36 yards for a fourth-quarter score before a safety gave Providence (2-2, 0-1) its final two points.
“There’s a lot of positives,” Coglianese said. “But again, in the Catholic League you’re going to have to win some of these big games.”