Loyola’s defense dominates Class 8A title game

Loyola’s first offensive play was an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jake Stearney to Declan Forde on a flea flicker.

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Loyola’s Declan Forde (17) celebrates his touchdown with teammates during the game against Lincoln-Way East.

Loyola’s Declan Forde (17) celebrates his touchdown with teammates during the game against Lincoln-Way East.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

CHAMPAIGN – It was not expected by anyone in the crowd, on the field or on the sidelines and it was over in an instant. Loyola’s first offensive play was an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jake Stearney to Declan Forde on a flea flicker.

“You only live once, so state championship game, why not,” Loyola quarterback Jake Stearney said. “Declan and I went to grade school together and that was our first play in every game. So it’s kind of cool to see that play out in the state championship game.”

With the Ramblers’ dominant defense, that initial successful burst of daring was all that was necessary to secure a 13-3 win against Lincoln-Way East in the Class 8A state championship game on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

“It was one of the scariest moments of my life, seeing that ball in the air,” Forde said. “It felt like forever before it came into my hands.”

Stearney and Forde connected again on a 17-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

“That was a big play but it’s the first play of the game so it’s not deflating,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. “We still had the whole game.”

Stearney was 14-for-19 passing for 174 yards and the two touchdowns. Forde had three catches for 110 yards and senior Spencer Leadbetter had five receptions for 28 yards.

Loyola’s defense, led by lineman Brooks Bahr and defensive back Johnny McGuire, allowed the Griffins (13-1) just 115 yards rushing and 81 yards passing.

“It’s crazy,” Stearney said. “As kids we grew up watching Loyola football and hoping to be out there someday. Having the chance to win something like this is once in a lifetime.”

Loyola’s Johnny McGuire (33) and Jake Stearney (15) react as they wait to receive the IHSA Class 8A state football championship trophy.

Loyola’s Johnny McGuire (33) and Jake Stearney (15) react as they wait to receive the IHSA Class 8A state football championship trophy.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

It’s the fourth state championship for the Ramblers (13-1), who won the Class 8A title in 2018 and 2015 and the Class 6A title in 1993.

Loyola’s only loss this season was to Mount Carmel, the Class 7A state champions.

“We’re a couple plays away from undefeated,” Holecek said. “The Catholic League prepared us. It’s physical, nasty stuff every week.”

Lincoln-Way East’s drive that resulted in the field goal went for 19 plays and nine minutes.

Loyola eliminated Lincoln-Way East from the playoffs last season as well.

“We came up a little short tonight,” Zvonar said. “They scored 16 points against us in the last eight quarters we played them and we scored three. They have all-star players and an all-star coaching staff.”

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