No. 1 Loyola beats No. 2 Mount Carmel: ‘This was our state championship’

No. 1 vs. No. 2 is always special, but it takes on even more importance in a season with only six games and no state playoffs.

SHARE No. 1 Loyola beats No. 2 Mount Carmel: ‘This was our state championship’
Loyola’s Vaughn Pemberton (21) scores a touchdown against Mount Carmel.

Loyola’s Vaughn Pemberton (21) scores a touchdown against Mount Carmel.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

No. 1 vs. No. 2 is always special, but it takes on even more importance in a season with just six games and no state playoffs.

“This was our state championship,” Loyola senior Marty Auer said after the top-ranked Ramblers beat Mount Carmel 35-17 on Saturday in Wilmette.

The Caravan had beaten Loyola the past two seasons. And the Loyola seniors had lost to Mount Carmel at the sophomore level the year before.

“All the seniors had this game marked for the past year,” Auer said.

Auer and his defensive backfield mate Artist Benjamin helped limit Mount Carmel quarterback Justin Lynch, who excels at creating big plays out of chaos.

“We knew we couldn’t let Lynch make any plays scrambling,” Auer said. “And they have good receivers. Artist did a great job locking down [Caravan receiver Jaali Parker].”

Loyola (2-0, 1-0 CCL/ESCC Blue) seemed set to take a 21-3 lead into halftime after Auer returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown and JT Thomas connected with Roger Simon for an 87-yard touchdown pass.

But Lynch showed how dangerous he is in the final two minutes of the first half, rushing for a 40-yard touchdown and throwing a 48-yard touchdown pass to senior Kyheim Schooler to cut the deficit to 21-17.

The Caravan (1-1, 0-1) didn’t score in the second half.

“[Pass defense] looked like our strength coming out of the St. Rita game,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “Our pass rush gets there and we’ve had fairly decent play [in the backfield]. Obviously there was blown coverage for a long touchdown before the half. Some things we have to do better but we have a bunch of disrupters on the [defensive line].”

Senior Vaughn Pemberton, a Ball State recruit, carried the load for Loyola’s offense. He had 23 carries for 125 yards and three touchdowns and caught four passes for 67 yards.

“The kid is a workhorse, obviously,” Holecek said. “You give him the ball. We’re not going to hide it. He’s special for a reason.”

Pemberton lined up as the Wildcat quarterback on several snaps.

“I just follow my lead blocker and it works,” Pemberton said. “You have to talk about Patrick Reilly. He had a lot of blocks, that last touchdown run was all due to him.”

Lynch was 8-for-17 for 126 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He rushed for 78 yards and one touchdown. Illinois recruit Kenenna Odeluga had 21 carries for 85 yards. Mount Carmel completed just one pass in the second half.

“We blew some coverages in the first half so in the second half we made sure to keep to our technique,” Benjamin said. “We were hurting ourselves in the first half. In the second half we played our game and didn’t let any of Mount Carmel’s stuff mess with us. We did our own thing. It’s a fantastic feeling to finally beat Mount Carmel.”

Thomas was 12-for-15 for 196 yards and one touchdown for the Ramblers. He connected with five different receivers. Roger Simon had three catches for 103 yards, including an 87-yard touchdown reception.

Both teams face major tests next week as well. Mount Carmel is at Marist and the Ramblers play at Brother Rice.

“This week we corrected a lot of mistakes,” Holecek said. “You always say from Week 1 to Week 2 you have to clean up all those things that are just mental. We did that to a degree.”

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