No. 10 Bartlett's defensive game plan against No. 2 Loyola Academy was to eliminate big plays at the expense of allowing multiple short-yardage passes.
The Ramblers said no problem.
Senior quarterback Peter Pujals patiently dissected the Bartlett defense by completing 31 of 45 pass attempts for 267 yards as the Ramblers manufactured six separate drives of 12 or more plays to post a 31-7 victory in a Class 8A second-round playoff matchup at Millennium Field in Streamwood Saturday afternoon.
Loyola (10-1) will host No. 3 Palatine (10-1) in a state quarterfinal next week. Bartlett finishes its season 7-4.
"Our game plan was to make them take 15 plays and hopefully stop them on fourth down or get us a pick," Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. "The game plan was to keep everything in front of us and make something happen. But their quarterback is very good."
Loyola expected Bartlett to switch out of cover 3 at some point to offset Pujal's connection with 6-foot-1 senior Richard Wehman, who finished with 15 receptions for 126 yards, but Bartlett remained true to its strategy.
"Their linebackers flew out so we threw a lot of mini-curls," Pujals said. "We were prepared for them to do something different, but they didn't so we just went along with what we had planned."
"We just take what the defense is giving us," Wehman said. "We're just methodical with long drives."
Bartlett indeed forced 3 turnovers, including an interception by defensive end Chris Kantzavelos on a middle screen pass to quash a 12-play Loyola drive in the second quarter. But the Ramblers scored touchdowns on drives of 12, 19, 12 and 12 plays and converted another 13-play drive into a 32-yard field goal by sophomore Mike Kurzydlowski.
"Our whole team worked together so hard, but they're just a great offensive passing team," Bartlett senior defensive end/tight end Chris Kantzavelos said. "Our D line played their hearts out trying to get that quarterback. He's so shifty. He played an excellent game."
Bartlett actually jumped to the early lead. Senior tailback Aaron Everson took a handoff on the second play from scrimmage, burst through the line, cut to the left sideline and used his sprinter's speed to race 66 yards for a touchdown. It was his 26th rushing touchdown of the season and 28th overall.
"It was a 3-hole play," Everson said. "I saw the outside so I cut out and I didn't stop until I saw the end zone.
"It was extremely tough after that. I'm so banged up right now. It's unbelievable how sore I am already and how hard of a hitting team they are."
Loyola's defense stiffened from that point forward. Bartlett's ensuing 9 possessions resulted in 4 three-and-outs, 3 interceptions, a lost fumble and a turnover on downs. Everson finished the game with 104 yards rushing on 19 carries.
"When you give their dangerous weapons a lane, they'll take advantage of it," Loyola linebacker Cody Sullivan said. "It happened once but we stopped them after that."
Loyola tied the game when Pujals capped a 12-play march with a 4-yard run up the middle on fourth-and-goal. The Ramblers took the lead on Ryan Ribordy's 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal from the 1, which finished off a mammoth 19-play drive that covered 84 yards in 6:23.
"Our fourth-down conversion rate has been real good this year," Loyola coach John Holecek said.
Loyola's first drive of the second half lasted 13 plays and culminated in Kurzydlowski's field goal. The Ramblers opened a 24-7 lead when Julius Holley finished a 12-play push with a 2-yard run on third-and-goal with 1:36 left in the third quarter.
Bartlett called on senior Steve Hrbacek to play quarterback in the second quarter. He hadn't thrown a pass this year after breaking his clavicle in the first series of the season opener. Hrbacek completed his first 3 attempts for 33 yards, but his next pass was picked off at the 3-yard line by Daniel Rafferty, who grabbed his fifth interception of the season. Luke Ford and Sullivan would also intercept passes for Loyola, which won the turnover battle 4-3.
Though Bartlett's season came to an end, the Hawks were satisfied with their effort against the No. 2 seed.
"It was an insane battle out there," said Everson, who finished the season with 1,984 rushing yards. "I'm proud of our team, though. It was a good game."