Showing no adverse effects from the leg injury that forced him to leave the previous game in the second quarter and hobble to a team bus on crutches, quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald rallied Loyola Academy from a second-quarter deficit and led the undefeated Ramblers to a 34-7 victory at Marist on Friday, Sept. 8.
Fitzgerald completed 13 of 21 passes for 225 yards for a touchdown and carried the football 10 times for 36 net yards for a score. His total yardage was 100 yards more than the team total of 161 yards for Marist (1-2), a testimony to both Fitzgerald’s performance and the strength of the Ramblers defense.
“Our trainers did a great job of helping me rehab,” said the junior who returned to practice on Monday three days after sustaining the injury in a Sept. 1 victory at Naperville Central. “It was just a bone bruise — there’s no swelling. We have a little shin guard on it for prevention, just in case.”
The Ramblers followed their quarterback’s example.
“We showed resiliency; we responded to adversity,” coach Beau Desherow said. “When we needed a response after their touchdown, Ryan responded.”
The aggressive RedHawks gave Fitzgerald and running back Drew MacPherson a hard time on the Ramblers’ first three possessions, and on each possession they were forced to punt.
On Marist’s third possession, Owen Winters hurled a 43-yard pass to Stephen Brown to put the ball on the 2-yard line, and two plays later the quarterback ran for the touchdown that was followed by Joe Ciesla’s extra point kick.
With 2 minutes 48 seconds to play in the second quarter, Loyola trailed for the first time this season.
Donovan Robinson returned the ensuing kickoff to the Loyola 34, and Fitzgerald went to work. He completed consecutive passes to MacPherson, Will Carlson and Nicholas Arogundade for a total of 46 yards, and then MacPherson gained a yard on a run, creating a third-and-3 situation at the Marist 27.
On the next play Fitzgerald reconnected with Carlson on a touchdown pass, and Michael Baker’s extra point tied the score.
Later in the quarter Marist drove into Ramblers’ territory but that counterattack was thwarted by safety Kenny Langston’s interception at the 5.
Two plays later Fitzgerald threw to MacPherson, who carried the ball to the RedHawks’ 15 for a 79-yard completion.
The defense stiffened and, helped by an offensive pass interference play, pushed the Ramblers back to the 30. A 6-yard run by Fitzgerald created a fourth-and-19 situation at the 24, dictating a field goal attempt.
Desherow called on Baker and he split the uprights from 42 yards out, giving Loyola a 10-7 lead with 36 seconds to play in the first half.
The Ramblers dominated the second half, scoring in the third quarter on touchdown runs of 12 and 2 yards by Fitzgerald and MacPherson, respectively, and in the fourth quarter on Baker’s 44-yard field goal and Finn Miller’s 2-yard touchdown run. Baker kicked all of the extra points.
The TD by Miller was set up by outside linebacker Quinn Herbert’s interception and 16-yard return punctuated by a RedHawks’ penalty after the play that advanced the ball to the 18-yard line. Then, Milller’s runs of 2 and 14 yards prefaced his touchdown carry.
Marist’s only second half scoring overture came early in the fourth quarter when a drive stalled at the Loyola 22 and Ciesla was wide on a field goal attempt, leaving the RedHawks facing a 24-7 deficit.
“It was different,” Fitzgerald said, recapping the Ramblers’ third straight victory for their new head coach. “In our previous two games (a 45-7 conquest at Catholic Central in Grand Rapids and a 27-6 triumph at Naperville North) we scored on our first possession. (This time) we struggled up front at first but then the offensive line turned it on. It was like flicking a switch.”
In Desherow’s opinion, tackle Joe Kelly made a significant impact.
“Joe played both ways, and his effort was unbelievable,” said the coach who platooned his other players. “He’s definitely a leader for us, stepping up for us to play two positions.”
The 265-pound Colgate recruit said when Marist scored the game’s first touchdown the defenders were “a little mad about it because our starters hadn’t been scored on all year. We stuck together and battled back and shut them out the rest of the way.
“And Ryan was absolutely outstanding on that drive for our first touchdown.”
Desherow made it a point to praise Pete Devine for the defensive coordinator’s role in the early season success story.
“The defense has been outstanding for these last three weeks,” he said. “Pete deserves a lot of credit for them being so well-prepared.”
Among the members of Fitzgerald’s supporting cast on offense, MacPherson and Miller played important roles in the victory. Although the tenacious Marist defense limited him to 27 yards in 10 carries, MacPherson came out of the backfield to catch 4 passes for 129 yards. His backup, Miller, was the Ramblers’ leading rusher with 48 yards in 11 rushing attempts.
Now, following three straight victories on the road capped by his first Chicago Catholic League conquest, Desherow will make his home debut as head coach. His Ramblers will be pitted against another Catholic League rival, Brother Rice, at 1:30 Saturday afternoon, Sept. 16, at Hoerster Field, which is named in honor of the late Loyola icon, John Hoerster, for whom Desherow played in high school.