Sam Rushin is playing a new position for Loyola this fall, and it looks like he’s got it down.
The senior moved from defensive lineman to linebacker and has helped keep the Ramblers strong on that side of the ball. They needed to be on Saturday afternoon, when the Loyola offense was held to its lowest point total in three years.
But Mikey Baker’s 32-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the first half proved to be enough for a 3-0 win over Lincoln-Way East in a Class 8A quarterfinal in Wilmette.
Rushin had 2.5 of Loyola’s nine sacks and helped spearhead a defensive effort that limited the Griffins (9-3) to 39 total yards.
“He has steadily gotten better,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “He’s been really good the second half of the season — really good.”
“It was crazy,” Rushin said of the narrow margin. “It puts a lot on us, but the offense is going to bounce back next week, we know they will.”
The Ramblers (12-0) mostly were able to contain Lincoln-Way East senior Trey Johnson, who’s had multiple 100-yard games since taking over as lead back after a teammate’s injury. Johnson finished with 17 carries for 63 yards and the Griffins were held to 38 passing yards.
“Our coaches drew up a good game plan,” Rushin said. “All the guys in coverage kept them locked down and we were good up front so we were able to stop the run.”
East’s best scoring chance came in the third quarter when a bad snap on a punt gave them possession at the Loyola 15. But Loyola’s defense held a pair of runs to a net of one yard and after a delay of game call, Rushin and Graham McCabe had sacks to end the threat.
Loyola didn’t have many scoring chances of its own. What wound up being the game-winning drive was highlighted by James Kreutz’s 22-yard run to the Griffins’ 12 on third-and-three. Four plays later, Baker scored the game’s only points.
Loyola quarterback Jake Stearney completed 17 of 27 passes for 161 yards. One of those completions was to himself on a tipped pass on the game-winning drive. Another was a 35-yarder to Jack Parker on a fake punt as time was winding down to put the game away.
“Offensively, we didn’t play the best,” Stearney said, “We’ve got a lot to learn for next week. But our defense, they had the game of their lives. They played lights out. They’re the reason why we won today.”
Lincoln-Way East, meanwhile, will be one of the teams to beat in 2022 after starting only six seniors against Loyola.
“Best team in the state, best team in the Midwest,” Griffins coach Rob Zvonar said of the Ramblers. “We went toe-to-toe with them all afternoon. ... I know we came up short and that’s not the standard at our place. But I have nothing but positive things to say about our group.”
That includes the seniors.
“They bridged the gap between the adversity of COVID and some other things that happened,” Zvonar said. “They got this program through. There’s a bright future here and these kids here today are going to remember what it takes because the seniors taught them and remember this not-so-great feeling and make it right next year.”