Playoff wins at Naperville Central are not supposed to be easy. Loyola’s players expected a battle against the Redhawks on Saturday, but it never materialized.
The Ramblers were too big in the trenches for Naperville Central and cruised to a 36-7 victory in the second round of the Class 8A state playoffs.
Quarterback Jake Stearney completed his first 12 passes, and the Loyola offense met little resistance on its first few drives.
“We were just able to run all over them,” Loyola running back Mike Regan said. “It’s easier than we thought, but I’m glad we got out with the win.”
Regan had 19 carries for 85 yards. Stearney was 16-for-19 for 150 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception. He had eight carries for 57 yards.
“Going in, we thought it would be very close, similar to the Marist game,” Stearney said. “But the offensive line was rolling today. They were amazing.”
Linebacker James Kreutz came in as quarterback at the goal line and scored on two short touchdown runs in the first quarter. Stearney connected with Charlie Mahon for a 21-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter, and running back Kyan Gibbs scored on an eight-yard run midway through the second quarter.
Kreutz punches it in again, extra point is missed. Loyola leads Naperville Central 13-0 in the 1Q. pic.twitter.com/ZOhbHhiyXZ— Michael O'Brien (@michaelsobrien) November 6, 2021
“This whole week we prepared nonstop,” Stearney said. “In the first half, we scored on every drive. We were lights-out. The line gave us great holes, but I think in the second half we got a little ahead of ourselves mentally.’’
Kreutz was a tremendous force on defense. He deflected passes, knocked off a helmet with a devastating tackle and wreaked havoc all over the field.
“He’s probably the best pure football player I’ve ever coached,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “He’s an animal. He’s all go, all the time. Even in practice.”
The lack of interest in Kreutz from college football programs is puzzling.
“He has a couple of schools interested, maybe Southeast Missouri,” Holecek said. “Illinois is calling him, but there is no offer. People are calling him, but there are no offers. They don’t think he’s big enough. He’s young; he just turned 17 in August. He’s got long arms; he’s 6 feet. I’m sure there will be plenty of interest once everyone’s season is over and they actually see him. His highlights are ridiculous.”
Naperville Central’s only score came on a one-yard run by Tristan Hall with 4:15 left in the third quarter. Hall had eight carries for 26 yards.
The Redhawks opened the season with wins against Hinsdale Central and Lincoln-Way East and lost by three on the road at Neuqua Valley. That’s as strong a résumé as any team in Class 8A other than the Ramblers.
Quarterback Owen Prucha was 13-for-30 for 97 yards with one interception. Northwestern recruit Reggie Fleurima caught five passes for 41 yards for the Redhawks (7-4).
“We have to get used to the officials,” Holecek said. “They were a little flag-happy. Catholic League refs don’t call as much. We have to be smarter.”
Loyola (11-0) will host Lincoln-Way East in the quarterfinals next weekend.