Edwardsville’s magical season came to a soggy conclusion Saturday in miserable weather conditions against a staunch Loyola Academy defense.
The Ramblers recovered a Tigers fumble in the third quarter, turned it into a two-touchdown lead and made it hold up in a 17-10 victory in the semifinals of the Class 8A playoffs.
Strong wind and rain made temperatures in the low-40s seem much colder, but there was nothing more bitter for Edwardsville than the taste of its first loss since Sept. 8.
“Our defense did a great job. They kept us in the game,” Edwardsville junior quarterback Kendall Abdur-Rahman said as tears rolled down his cheeks. “If our offense could have done more, maybe we would have had a chance. We just had too many mistakes on offense, and we couldn’t get it going.
“We left it all on the field. It was a great group of seniors. I wish we could have won it all for them.”
Edwardsville, which led 3-0 early in the first quarter and trailed 10-3 at halftime, finished 9-4. Loyola Academy improved to 12-1 and will play Lincoln-Way East in the championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday in DeKalb.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Edwardsville coach Matt Martin said. “They have nothing to hang their heads about. They competed all the way. Our defense really stepped up. ... I have no regrets and our kids shouldn’t, either.”
The sixth-seeded Ramblers outgained 26th-seeded Edwardsville just 219-176, but they grabbed control of the game when senior quarterback Quinn Boyle scored on a 3-yard run up the middle that made it 17-3 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Although the Tigers answered quickly on freshman Justin Johnson’s 6-yard TD run with 1:37 left in the quarter, they went three-and-out on their next two possessions. On their final possession, Abdur-Rahman was sacked on consecutive plays by junior Patrick Daniels and senior Anthony Rodriguez. Loyola Academy then ran out the clock.
“Big plays by our defense,” Loyola Academy coach John Holecek said. “We just played good, solid defense. Our guys were a little more disciplined than (Abdur-Rahman) has seen.”
Abdur-Rahman finished with 18 carries for 58 yards. Holecek, who played for Illinois and then for eight seasons as a linebacker in the NFL, felt fortunate that the Ramblers were able to limit the playmaker.
“I played with Michael Vick, and I said, ‘That’s Michael Vick in high school,’” Holecek said. “Amazing. That’s crazy, the stuff that he does. His highlight film is unbelievable. I was completely worried about him all week. We were like, ‘If we take care of him, if we don’t let him beat us, we feel good.’”
Holecek said he was “very” concerned when the Tigers, led by a big run by Abdur-Rahman, narrowed their gap to seven points on the TD by Johnson, who had 13 carries for 76 yards.
“We had a couple of missed tackles, a couple of bad reads,” he said. “Their offensive line did a great job knocking us back. We tried to correct it. We had to tackle (better). ... It was a collective effort — staying in our gaps and not making any rush lanes for (Abdur-Rahman) to pick apart because you know that quarterback is looking to explode through one of those.”
Senior Devin Parker’s 40-yard field goal with the wind at his back gave Edwardsville a 3-0 lead with 8:07 to play in the first quarter.
A short punt against the wind in the second quarter handed Loyola Academy the ball on the Tigers’ 37-yard line. The Ramblers then tied it on freshman Liam Conaghan’s 30-yard field goal at the 5:26 mark.
The Ramblers took the lead for good at 10-3 on Logan’s 9-yard TD run with 1:13 to play in the first half, then extended it to 17-3 on Quinn’s key third-quarter score that culminated a 77-yard drive. The possession began when Loyola Academy recovered an Edwardsville fumble on a pass play on which the Tigers had the needed first-down yardage.
Johnson’s TD made Martin optimistic the Tigers could still win.
“In field conditions like this, you’re one play away,” he said. “Whether it’s special teams, a scoop-and-score, a pick-six — you’re one play away. We told our kids before the game, especially in conditions like this, no lead is safe, regardless of who’s in the lead.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm