Senior defensive lineman/running back Dionte Moorehead and Glenbard West football teammates, coaches and parents praised and congratulated Loyola Academy players Saturday at Duchon Field.
Champions recognize champions -- especially ones that very well could win again.
The Hilltoppers held tough before Loyola pulled away for a 42-13 Class 8A semifinal victory in Glen Ellyn behind four consecutive touchdown drives in the second half.
"(It's) just the way they execute. That's a good football program over there. They made more plays than us," Moorehead said. "They do (have a great chance to win). They do. Shout out to those guys. They played a really good game against us and I hope they go get it at state."
Glenbard West (10-3), the 2015 Class 7A champion, eventually was worn down by the effectiveness and superior size of the defending Class 8A champion Ramblers (13-0), whose offensive line averaged 6-foot-3, 263 pounds.
The Hilltoppers only trailed 14-7 at halftime, but Loyola took the third-quarter kickoff 30 yards and drove 46 more for a touchdown. Three more methodical drives followed, limiting Glenbard West to 15 offensive plays the entire second half.
The Ramblers meet Maine South (10-3) at 7 p.m. next Saturday in Champaign.
"They're the best team I've ever seen probably. I'd put them up there with East St. Louis in 2008 and Wheaton (Warrenville) South in 2010," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet, citing Class 7A champions that eliminated the Hilltoppers in the playoffs.
"I feel good about what our kids did. We didn't play poorly. They just played really well and I think sometimes you get tapped out at the end of the season. I don't walk away disappointed. I'm disappointed we lost. We had to play small ball. That's what we were doing. We did a great job in the first half."
The first half consisted of three drives apiece and a quarterback kneel to run out the clock.
The Ramblers' first drive went 89 yards for a touchdown. Then they reached the 10-yard line, but the Hilltoppers held to regain possession on downs.
Glenbard West responded with a 15-play, 90-yard touchdown drive, capped by junior Ryan Diver's 4-yard run for a 7-7 tie 1:32 until halftime.
Loyola, however, returned a squib kickoff to its 39. Aided by a 39-yard pass from quarterback Tom Herion to Jake Marwede, the Ramblers advanced quickly and scored just 18.4 seconds before halftime. The 6-5 Marwede, headed for Duke, caught the 5-yard TD fade pass.
"It would have been big if we had gone in 7-7 at half," Glenbard West senior safety Jackson Goleash said.
"I think we lost our momentum right there," Hetlet said. "We came out in the second half and those dudes will wear on you if you're out there (defensively) for an extended period of time."
Diver rushed for 89 yards. Senior quarterback Cole Brady eluded a sack for a 61-yard TD pass play with senior Patrick Mackey to close the gap to 42-13.
Herion passed for 186 yards and two TDs and rushed for another after exiting during the first quarter of the quarterfinals after helmet-to-helmet contact. Kyle Rock rushed for 152 yards, David Terrell Jr. had 91 receiving yards and both scored TDs.
Marwede had 2 TDs, 70 receiving yards and 47 rushing yards as quarterback in the wildcat package. On the first drive of the second half, he delivered a huge 20-yard gain on fourth-and-2 from the Hilltoppers' 35 followed by a 15-yard TD run.
Loyola coach John Holecek said it's the best quarter his team has played this season.
"I didn't think those (Glenbard West) guys had any weaknesses," Holecek said. "They're a really complete team, so when we come in to their place and put on this performance, hat's off to (our players). No punting (by us) -- unbelievable."
Glenbard West's senior class overachieved despite injuries and playing without any Division I recruits.
These three losses were their only ones over four seasons. They displayed their leadership after Glenbard West was 4-2 following consecutive defeats to Lyons Township and Hinsdale Central in overtime.
"They're an amazing group. It's not like there's any of these huge names. They just play hard and play for each other," Hetlet said.
"Coming in freshman year, nobody believing in us as a class. We proved to them we could get something done," Goleash said. "(I'll remember) just the way we came back after the midseason losses and how we came together as a team and built off it as we could. I'm just happy we got this far."