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For the first time all season, the Palatine offense was stymied.
The Pirates entered Saturday afternoon's contest at Hoerster Field at Sachs Stadium scoring 44 points per game, but a sound Loyola defense forced Palatine into 4 turnovers and held them without an offensive touchdown to earn a 19-7 win in the Class 8A quarterfinals.
Palatine (10-2) finished with a season-low 193 yards of offense, more than 100 fewer than its previous low.
"We were just 'off' offensively, a lot," said Palatine coach Tyler Donnelly. "They're the first team that's been able to do that to us for four quarters."
The Pirates had chances, especially in the first half, but were hurt by 4 Ramblers' interceptions, 3 of which were courtesy of Loyola linebacker Cody Sullivan.
"We had watched a lot of their games," Sullivan said. "Every time they tried to run, they didn't have much success. We didn't think they would in the beginning, and it proved true. We expected a lot of pass, and that's what we got. We took advantage of it."
After lightning delayed the scheduled noon kickoff for an hour and a half, Palatine trailed at halftime for this first time this season. That 10-0 deficit was forgotten about temporarily when the defense forced a three-and-out and Cam Kuksa returned the ensuing punt 48 yards for a touchdown.
With 10:36 left in the third quarter, the Pirates suddenly had life, down by just 3 points.
"It was a low punt," Kuksa said. "No one was covering. I just picked it up, got to the outside and got a lot of blocks."
The momentum seemed to be shifting towards the visitors, but Ramblers quarterback Peter Pujals (14-of-25, 174 yards) responded immediately, engineering a 9-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in his 21-yard touchdown pass to Luke Ford.
Mike Kurzydlowski added a fourth quarter field goal to set the final margin as Loyola (11-1) allowed only 58 yards in the second half.
Early on, it was the defense keeping the Pirates close.
An interception by Loyola's Daniel Rafferty on the first place from scrimmage set the Ramblers up on the Pirate 23, but Palatine's defense held for a field goal.
It wasn't until less than nine minutes remained in the second quarter that the Ramblers got another first down as the Pirates yielded just 74 total yards in the first half.
"Since our offense wasn't stepping up in the beginning of the game, we knew our defense needed to make extra stops to keep ourselves in the game and keep ourselves going," said linebacker John Serio.
Lucas Rago, Dan Riddle and Serio were key in holding Loyola to 114 rushing yards on 45 attempts, while Josh Baldus, Nick Grimes and Sam Miller all pressured Pujal.
And any passes that did reach the secondary were met with vicious hits from Jesse Bobbit and Kuksa.
"We knew that if we hit them hard for four quarters, we would be in the game," said Riddle, whose blocked field goal in the third quarter kept the score at 16-7. "We knew we had to leave it all out on the field, and I think we did."
Every time Palatine's offense appeared to get going, penalties or turnovers derailed them. They had a 15-play drive in the first quarter that took more than six minutes off the clock, but came up empty.
And after quarterback Ethan Olles (16-of-40, 170 yards) completed four straight passes, including a 27-yarder to Kuksa (6 catches, 84 yards), Sullivan cut in front of a Palatine receiver to stall another drive in Rambler territory.
"We didn't have that flow that we normally do," Donnelly said. "We'd get something and then all of a sudden, something bad would happen. It's just uncharacteristic of us."
Through all of its injuries, Palatine won 10 games for the first time since 1997 and their second straight Mid-Suburban West title.
"To have all of those expectations and all of those things go wrong, to get to this point was exciting," Donnelly said. "We'd love to keep going. But we all feel good that we gave them our best shot."