The buzz surrounding Loyola has been growing all season. Reporters, fans, opposing coaches, pretty much anyone that has seen the No. 8 Ramblers play has walked away impressed.
Loyola fumbled on the opening kickoff Saturday against Fenwick at Concordia University in River Forest. That was pretty much the only mistake the Ramblers made, it was near perfection from then on out in a 54-16 win over the Friars.
Senior running back Dara Laja, who took his second carry of the game 54 yards for a touchdown, summed up Loyola’s offense succinctly: “confidence is just oozing out of us.”
Laja had five carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns. The Ramblers (4-0, 2-0 Catholic League Blue) finished with 479 total yards of offense, 202 on the ground and 279 passing.
“The offensive line has just been making big holes for all of us this season,” said Laja. “That makes it so much easier. Then I just have to read the linebackers, read the safeties and out run them.”
That’s exactly what Laja did on the 54-yard touchdown run. He sprinted through a massive hole and then blew past three defenders in the secondary.
The Ramblers only had one other huge play, a 71-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Emmett Clifford to Thomas Smart. The big plays were impressive, but it was the pace and precision on Loyola’s seven touchdown drives that was truly eye-opening.
“We have a really smart team,” Clifford said. “That’s what we take pride in and that’s how we beat teams. I think a lot of work was put in in the offseason. Everyone had their heads in the playbook. We have confidence, when we start moving we get in the flow and we can’t be stopped.”
Clifford was 11-for-15 passing for 193 yards and three touchdowns. He didn’t start last season but played significant minutes before breaking his collarbone. He connected with nine different receivers in the first half, including junior David Terrell Jr., the son of former Michigan star and Chicago Bear David Terrell.
“Emmett is making great decisions and our depth at receiver is phenomenal,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “It’s the deepest position we’ve had for years.”
Northwestern recruit Eric Eshoo, a 6-5 wide receiver, caught two passes including a touchdown.
“Emmett has a ton of options to thrown to,” Eshoo said. “He’s going to throw to me when he wants, but I’m taking a huge blocking roll this year, working hard for next year.”
All that offensive firepower is combined with a first-team defense that has yet to surrender a touchdown this season. And the Ramblers have already faced Maine South and Brother Rice.
“The defense is feeding off this offense, “ Holecek said. “When you are playing great offense the defense gets to pin (the opposing team’s) ears back and they can’t run the ball on you.”
Keep an eye on the Ramblers’ backup quarterback, sophomore Quinn Boyle. He was 7-for-7 for 86 yards and a touchdown.
“(Boyle) is a phenomenal quarterback,” Eshoo said. “He’s going to be good in the future. Any teams that see a backup that good on tape will have to have a little fear in their eyes because he’s a stud.”
Fenwick (1-3, 0-2) scored a touchdown on the final play of the game, a four-yard run by senior Jackson Mitchell.