O’Brien: Loyola is simply the best

SHARE O’Brien: Loyola is simply the best
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Simple and easy isn’t part of Illinois high school football. Regular season scheduling is a mess and the playoff format is constantly changing. There is a multiplier and a success factor and teams shifting back and forth within eight different classes. The play on the field this weekend left a lot to be desired. There were running clocks (used in 40-point blowouts) in five of the eight title games.

But when it comes to Loyola, all of that fades away. The Ramblers are simply the best high school football team in the state. They proved that to most observers two weeks ago by beating Homewood-Flossmoor in the season’s best game. Saturday at Huskie Stadium the Ramblers dominated Marist 41-0 to officially win the Class 8A state title.

It was a complete team effort for the Ramblers (14-0). Dara Laja, the school’s all-time leading rusher, had 24 carries for 152 yards and two touchdowns.

“I’ll remember watching the clock running down and embracing all the teammates I’ve known for four years,” Lara said. “To share it with all my friends was something special.”

Quarterback Emmett Clifford was 16-for-24 for 195 yards with one touchdown. Clifford scored first, on a four-yard run with 9:39 to play in the first quarter. Laja scored on a nine-yard and a six-yard run and then Clifford found Jonah Isaac for a nine-yard touchdown pass to close out the first half scoring.

Loyola’s last state title was under John Hoerster in 1993. The Ramblers lost in the championship game in 2011 and 2013.

“It’s not the worst thing to be the Marv Levy of Illinois high school football but it is nice to get this,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “Today I just think we caught fire and these guys played really well.”

Quarterback Brendan Skalitzky was 13-for-32 for 176 yards with one interception for Marist (9-5)

“We knew that their quarterback was the big bulk of their offense and if we got after him every play that he wasn’t going to want to run after taking so many hits,” Loyola defensive end Ben LeRoy said “I think all the pressure started to get to him.”

Marist running back Darshon McCullough, the Redhawks’ top offensive player all season, had one carry for seven yards and six receptions for 113 yards.

“They were just fast and big and credit goes to them, they were a great defense, probably the best one we’ve seen,” Skalitzky said.

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