Most schools in the area won’t travel 20 minutes to Wilmette to play football against Loyola. Teams generally need five wins to qualify for the state playoffs and matching up against the Ramblers isn’t very likely to result in a win.
That didn’t scare Rochester and coach Derek Leonard. The Rockets’ Week 2 game was canceled due to COVID. They could have taken a forfeit win. Instead the traditional Class 4A school drove 226 miles up I-55 to face Loyola.
It was a bold move, something that will earn the respect of football fans across the state. Rochester is one of the state’s best football programs. The Rockets are 163-34 with eight state championships under Leonard.
That confidence and pride may have gone a step too far on Saturday afternoon. The Rockets made a show of planting their flag on Loyola’s logo at midfield just before the start of the game.
That might not sound like a huge deal, but the Loyola players were still referencing the slight three hours later.
“That gave us some energy for sure,” Loyola quarterback Jake Stearney said. “We are thankful they came all the way up here to play us but that thing on the logo got us fired up for sure.”
The outcome was never in doubt. The Ramblers rolled to a 56-7 win. The running clock started in the third quarter.
“They do everything,” Leonard said. “They fly to the football. They don’t turn the ball over. They do all the little things. And we didn’t convert. You can’t be sloppy. They are so big in every spot.
“I didn’t come here for respect. I thought we had a chance. We didn’t play good and they beat our butts.”
Loyola running back Marco Maldonado had all kinds of running space in the first half. He finished with 15 carries for 107 yards with touchdown runs of 31 and one yard. Maldonado had three catches for 112 yards and one touchdown.
“We knew what would work and what wouldn’t against them, it was something we have seen before,” Maldonado said. “It wasn’t too complicated of a defense. So we just tried to blast off right away.”
Maldonado didn’t take Rochester lightly.
“I knew who they were,” Maldonado said. “They had a real good team a few years ago that beat St. Rita. So I knew they weren’t a team to just take lightly.”
Stearney was 17 of 23 passing for 279 yards with four touchdown throws. Loyola receiver Danny Collins had seven receptions for 76 yards with one touchdown.
Rochester quarterback Hank Beatty, an Illinois recruit, was 15 of 24 for 118 yards and connected with 10 different receivers. He had a one-yard run for the Rockets’ only score.
Loyola coach John Holecek doesn’t think it is right that Rochester winds up punished for choosing to play a game instead of accepting a forfeit win.
“We need to have some common sense about this,” Holecek said. “They had a forfeit win and now they have a loss because they came and challenged themselves. What are we trying to reward? Common sense should make that an easy switch.”
“No one would play us and I want to play every week,” Leonard said. “I understand that due to the IHSA rules no one should want to play us. They shouldn’t want to play Loyola. The IHSA should step up and say this is not a good rule for the kids.”