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Quarterback Jake Stearney steps into the spotlight as Loyola cruises past St. Rita

No. 8 St. Rita focused on stopping Loyola’s ground attack on Saturday in Wilmette. That turned the game into a showcase for quarterback Jake Stearney.

Loyola’s Jake Stearney (15) scrambles away from St. Rita’s Jake Lehtinen (24).
Loyola’s Jake Stearney (15) scrambles away from St. Rita’s Jake Lehtinen (24).
Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

Loyola quarterback Jake Stearney played a bit as a sophomore. The Ramblers blew out most of their opponents in the spring season, so Stearney took some snaps.

It was clear he had a bright future ahead of him and that the quarterback position was in good hands. It now appears that wasn’t giving Stearney enough credit.

No. 8 St. Rita focused on stopping Loyola’s ground attack on Saturday in Wilmette. That turned the game into a showcase for Stearney. The 6-3, 175-pound junior picked apart the Mustangs as the top-ranked Ramblers cruised to a 37-7 win.

“We executed really well,” Stearney said. “We got a little frustrated in the middle of the game but this was the biggest test we’ve had. This really shows what kind of team we have.”

Stearney was 20-for-27 for 301 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He connected with seven different receivers.

“Jake’s a special player,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “If they are gonna blitz and commit to stop the run we have some answers for that. He’s going to keep improving. He’s poised in the pocket and has great scrambles. You can see he has speed when he takes it. He’s a Division I quarterback that we have for two years and he’s going to keep getting better.”

Senior Danny Collins was Stearney’s favorite target. He caught eight passes for 137 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second half.

“Jake is phenomenal with his eyes,” Collins said. “He found me and I saw that no one was in front of me and I just ran as fast as I could. That could be the fastest I’ve ever ran. Week 1 I got caught by a kicker on a kick return. So I wasn’t going to get caught this time.”

Jack Fitzgerald, Marco Maldonado and Peter Gilroy each caught three passes for the Ramblers.

“We caught the ball,” Holecek said. “You didn’t see too many tips or drops. They are a high risk, high reward defense. They are trying to stop the run and blitzing a lot and we had to go to those choices. Jake is terrific, he can manage really well. Overall the offense has made a big step. That’s a heck of a defense.”

Loyola (3-0) jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a 10-yard touchdown run by Marco Maldonado (17 carries, 61 yards, two touchdowns) and a 24-yard field goal from Mike Baker.

St. Rita (1-2) scored on a trick play in the second quarter. Quarterback Tommy Ulatowski threw it to running back Kyle Clayton who found BJ Hall alone in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown pass.

That cut the Loyola lead to 10-7, but it wouldn’t get any closer.

“It was just a calamity of errors,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “That’s a good football team and we would have our hands full under any circumstances. But we just made too many mistakes and had too many missed assignments.”

Mustangs running back/receiver Kaleb Brown is expected to miss another few weeks with the leg injury he suffered in Week 1. St. Rita was held to just 25 total rushing yards in the game. Ulatowski was 8 of 16 passing for 24 yards.

The Mustangs picked up a big win in Kentucky last week and will be the favorites in the next few games until Brown returns.

Loyola’s schedule doesn’t let up. The Ramblers will be on the road at Brother Rice on Friday.