High school football: Loyola dominates Ohio power St. Xavier in nationally-televised showdown

There are 119 players on Loyola’s varsity roster. All the way at the bottom is number 99, Brooks Bahr. But the 6-6, 270-pound defensive lineman is the first player everyone notices when the Ramblers take the field.

It’s been that way for a few years. That kind of size blends in on a basketball court but on the high school football field 6-6 is uncommon.

The defense Bahr leads was uncommon and exceptional on Saturday in Wilmette. The Ramblers dominated Cincinnati St. Xavier 44-20. The Bombers didn’t score on Loyola’s starting defense.

“This feels amazing,” Bahr said. “It’s just the beginning of a long season but I feel like we’ve come together and put the world on notice. And we’re only going to get better from here.”

The Ramblers (1-0) returned a lot of starters on offense this season and it was thought that group would have to make up for an inexperienced defense for a couple of weeks. Loyola coach John Holecek excels at building defenses, so it wasn’t considered a long-term issue.

But the Loyola defense was ready from the first whistle, even in a nationally-televised game on ESPN against an opponent with multiple college recruits.

“All the guys rose to the occasion and delivered,” Bahr said. “I couldn’t be prouder.”

Colgate recruit Jake Stearney spearheaded an impressive passing attack for the Ramblers. He was 15-for-19 passing for 253 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.

Stearney connected with five different receivers, several of which made impressive grabs. Loyola has dependable wide receivers and a pair of massive, physical tight ends.

“That’s from the preparation we built up over a month,” Stearney said. “We’ve established trust and it is tremendous. It’s nice having reliable targets.”

Senior Spencer Leadbetter had five receptions for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jack Parker caught a 15-yard touchdown pass. Declan Forde added four catches for 95 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown.

Loyola wasn’t expected to have a breakout threat at running back this season. Throw that out the window. Sophomore Drew MacPherson ripped off a 53-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and junior Will Nimesheim opened the second half with a 70-yard touchdown run.

“That was incredible,” Holecek said. “I didn’t think those guys were going to run past too many people but they certainly looked the part today.”

Loyola’s Brooks Bahr (99) lines up for the next play as the Ramblers host St. Xavier.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The Ramblers led 41-7 early in the third quarter. St. Xavier’s massive crowd, including a band and student section, was reduced to chants about Joe Burrow with the game they were watching so far out of reach.

“All the people they brought here from Ohio was awesome,” Parker said. “It really made the energy higher and that was so cool.”

St. Xavier (0-2) lost its opener last week. The Bombers are traditionally one of the top programs in Ohio.

“I told the kids that I’ll own this one,” St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said. “We weren’t ready to play. But that’s a really good football team. They played hard, fast and physical. They’re gonna be a tough out this year.”

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