The Class 8A semifinal football game at 2 p.m. Saturday between Loyola Academy and host Edwardsville figures to come down to quarterback play.
Both teams rely heavily on their signal-callers — Loyola Academy senior Quinn Boyle and Tigers junior Kendall Abdur-Rahman.
Boyle has thrown for 1,618 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for a Ramblers-high 745 yards and six TDs. Abdur-Rahman leads Edwardsville with 1,341 yards rushing and 26 TDs. He also has passed for 523 yards and eight TDs.
“I’ve been proud of Kendall,” Edwardsville coach Matt Martin said of his first-year starter, who has received a scholarship offer from Iowa State. “He comes to work every day and works hard. He’s improved all year. He’s a difference-maker for us.”
Loyola Academy (11-1), seeded sixth and on an 11-game winning streak, has reached the semifinals with victories over New Trier, Hinsdale Central and Chicago Marist. The Ramblers finished second in Class 8A last season after winning the 8A championship in 2015.
Edwardsville (9-3), seeded 26th, has extended its winning streak to nine with narrow wins over Huntley, Palatine and Minooka. The games were decided by a combined 10 points. The Tigers played for Class 7A state titles in 2001 and 2002, losing both times to Mount Prospect.
The winner of the game Saturday will face Lincoln-Way East or Maine South for the state championship at 7 p.m. Nov. 25 at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Martin calls Quinn a “dual-threat quarterback,” but said the Ramblers are so much more.
“I don’t like what I see on the tape,” Martin said. “They look pretty good. Not too many weaknesses. They play sound special teams and their defense, it’s hard to get them out of position. They have great schemes, their kids play hard and tackle well. Offensively, they make you defend 11 guys. They have a good perimeter screen game, they can beat you deep in the passing game and they run the ball very well. Definitely tough.”
Sophomore running back Trevor Cabanban made his first varsity start in the first round of the playoffs and has 308 yards and three touchdowns on 47 carries in the postseason. Cabanban, who replaced the injured Hamad Bullie, had 183 yards and two TDs against Marist.
“He’s a jitterbug out there. He’s ridiculous,” Martin said.
Junior wideout Rory Boos is Quinn’s favorite deep threat and leads the team with 740 receiving yards and 10 TDs through the air, while junior receiver Noah Jones (556 yards, four TDs) is a Division I prospect. Senior James Joyce adds depth.
On defense, lineman Marty Geary is the Catholic Catholic Blue Conference’s Player of the Year. Seniors Chris Scott and Anthony Rodriguez, and junior Armoni Dixon are linebackers.
The Tigers also have an offensive arsenal to complement Abdur-Rahman, led by sophomore tailback Antonio Thigpen Jr. and freshman running back Justin Johnson. Junior Dionte Rodgers availability is in doubt.
“He’s had a lot of bad luck,” Martin said. “He keeps trying, but this ankle just doesn’t (respond). Any little wrong twist re-aggravates it.
“(But) Antonio has exceeded all our expectations this year. He’s really matured. He’s done a great job. He’s been very dependable. We’ve been very pleased with him. And Justin Johnson, I just don’t think he plays like a freshman. He has become an all-around back. He’s starting to run like a kid that’s been playing for three years.”
Defensively, junior Josh Anderson and senior Drew Johnson anchor the line, with senior Ryan Connelly at linebacker and Rodney Smith, Norman Harris, Ethan Young and Jalen Cooper in the secondary.
“It’s been a team effort,” Martin said. “I don’t know if we have a bunch of superstars. I don’t know what people think when they look at us, but I don’t know when we walk on the field whether we exactly pass the eyeball test. It’s just been a good team effort in all three phases of the game.”
Martin said winning close games in the playoffs has helped the Tigers gain confidence.
“I don’t know what will happen Saturday, and really, I just don’t talk about winning or losing that much with our kids,” he said. “Right now, I see our kids playing hard. In these last three games, we’ve had bad things happen to us. But I don’t see a panic, I don’t see people’s heads down. I see them keep working. That’s all I ask. If they keep doing that, they’ll have a chance to win.”
Martin said he would prefer a “boring” 21-0 victory, but at this juncture of the playoffs, he knows that’s not a reasonable expectation.
“I just know if we’re close, somehow this team finds a way to win, regardless of the score,” he said. “If it’s close, I like our chances.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm