By Mark Maxwell
The Naperville Central Redhawks (11-3) capitalized on turnovers and stunned the Loyola Ramblers (12-2) on Saturday, winning the Class 8A state championship, 13-10.
Five minutes into the game, Naperville Central's Dan Dolehide recovered a Loyola fumble and set up a 34-yard field goal from Naperville Central kicker Connor Assalley.
The second quarter was deja vu all over again. Well, almost. Dolehide forced another Loyola turnover, this time making a spectacular one-handed interception grab in the end zone for Naperville Central. This time, Assalley capped off the drive with a 37-yard field goal.
At halftime of the IHSA Class 8A state championship, the score was Naperville Central 6, Loyola 0.
Loyola came into the game with the stronger defense of the two teams, allowing just nine points per game. Naperville Central's defense has been respectable all season, allowing 16 points per game, but few people expected the Redhawks defense to outshine the high-flying Loyola offense. That is exactly what happened on the opening drive of the second half. The Redhawks halted the Ramblers and forced a punt to set the tone in the second half.
In a game decided by special teams, Loyola found their way onto the scoreboard for the first time in the third quarter when a Redhawks punt sailed through the back of the end zone for a safety.
The Ramblers came up big after that, stopping Jake Kolbe and the Redhawks on fourth down just before the close of the third quarter. Loyola running back Julius Holley injured his ankle in the third quarter and did not return to the game.
Naperville Central's special teams unit played exceptionally well on Saturday, scoring on two field goals and one defensive score. Dillion Grooss blocked Loyola's field goal attempt and ran it 85 yards, all the way back for a touchdown. The special teams score gave the Redhawks a 13-2 lead.
Ramblers quarterback Jack Penn rallied his troops and led Loyola to score the first offensive touchdown of the game by connecting with a falling Fran O'Malley in the end zone at the end of a 11 play, 75 yard scoring drive. Penn closed the gap to a manageable three points by running the two point conversion in himself.
Redhawks running back Ben Andreas caught a long pass from Jake Kolbe to cross over into Loyola territory for a first down with 3:56 remaining in the game. The big play forced Loyola coach John Holocek to start using his timeouts on the defensive side of the ball.
Naperville Central hung on to win a close one, 13-10, giving coach Mike Stine his first state title victory.