Ramblers football falls to Mt. Carmel in heavyweight bout
The football game between Mt. Carmel and Loyola was everything it was cracked up to be.
Mt. Carmel scored three unanswered third-quarter touchdowns, two in 21 seconds, to surge past the host Ramblers and hold on to win 42-37 on Oct. 22 at a jumping Hoerster Field in Wilmette.
Pitting two undefeated teams, Mt. Carmel, the No. 1 team in Class 7A by the Associated Press, earned its 35th league title by topping CCL/ESCC Blue foe Loyola, the No. 1 team in Class 8A.
"Losers always look at all the regrets and the plays you gave away and the plays you didn't do well," Loyola coach John Holecek said after the game.
"Coaching lessons ... Players had a lot of errors that we're going to scrutinize much more with a loss, so hopefully you grow from it. But it's a tough pill to swallow right now," he said.
While Mt. Carmel and Loyola gained a respective 384 and 324 yards of offense and scored a healthy amount, defense took a toll.
Normally completing 77% of his passes, Mt. Carmel quarterback Blainey Dowling completed 16-of-28 throws for 175 yards on Saturday. Ramblers quarterback Jake Stearney, who entered the game completing 72%, went 13-of-31 for 179 yards.
"A lot of credit to the defense," said Mt. Carmel coach Jordan Lynch. "They got the stop when the stop's needed."
Neither quarterback threw an interception, though, and Dowling threw 3 touchdown passes. Stearney threw 1, a 23-yarder to Spencer Leadbetter that with Michael Baker's kick pulled the Ramblers within 42-37 with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter. Loyola's final drive stalled at Mt. Carmel's 38-yard line with 1:23 remaining.
"We obviously want to win every game, as every team (does)," said the Colgate-bound Stearney, who added 61 yards rushing. "But I think taking this loss will fuel us big-time going forward."
The Mt. Carmel Caravan (9-0, 4-0) led once in the first half, 7-3 on Dowling's 22-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Furlong at 6:34 of the first quarter.
Loyola (8-1, 3-1) recaptured a 10-7 lead on Stearney's 24-yard touchdown run to end the first-quarter scoring.
Loyola senior Joe Auer's block of a 34-yard Caravan field goal attempt led to an impressive Ramblers touchdown drive before halftime.
"We love Joe, he's very confident," Holecek said of the Attea Middle School product. "He just came out for football two years ago, learning how to play the game in two years at a high level. Just astonishing character, a high-character kid."
After Auer's block at 4:01 of the second quarter, Loyola mounted an 80-yard touchdown drive. It included three key Stearney plays -- a 19-yard pass to Leadbetter, an 11-yard option keeper and, on fourth-and-8 from the Caravan 37-yard line, a 15-yard pass to Declan Forde. Stearney scrambled and delivered the football just before taking a hit.
Three straight Caravan penalties sent Loyola to the 3-yard line. Behind tight ends Jack Parker and P.J. Hayes in the backfield as blockers, Will Nimesheim slammed in for the touchdown. Baker's kick gave Loyola a 24-14 halftime lead.
"Yeah, the second quarter was great, the third quarter, not-so," Holecek said.
Clearly emphasizing the pass rush, Mt. Carmel linebacker Nickolas Naujokas' sack forced a punt on Loyola's initial third-quarter possession. Furlong returned the punt 28 yards, Stearney making a touchdown-saving tackle.
That score came three plays later when Dowling faked a handoff and ran 14 yards. Louie Chappetto's kick drew the Caravan within 24-21 at 8:18 of the third.
Mt. Carmel immediately regained possession when another big pass rush forced a fumble Caravan lineman Laquan Battle recovered at the Ramblers' 15-yard line. After a Loyola penalty, Damarion Arrington ran a jet sweep for a 7-yard touchdown, Mt. Carmel's second in 21 seconds for a 28-24 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
"We can't let (Stearney) get comfortable, he's one of the best players in the state," Lynch said. "You let him get comfortable, he looks really good. You have to pressure a 17-year-old kid -- and he still made some really good throws, with pressure."
Mt. Carmel led 35-24 before Loyola closed to within 35-30 on Nimesheim's 3-yard touchdown run with 45.6 seconds left in the third quarter.
Nimeshiem ran for 70 yards with 44 yards receiving. Leadbetter caught 5 passes for 72 yards. Furlong ran for 95 yards and caught 4 passes for 78 yards.
On the field, several hours before his team received a No. 6 seed in the Class 8A playoffs, Holecek said the outcome would reveal "tons of lessons."
"Belief in your system, belief in what you call, trusting your teammates," said the former NFL linebacker. "All that really hits home when you lose. And then you scrutinize it and you're like, OK, now let's tighten things up."