NEW LENOX – Loyola Academy showed why it has one of the top-ranked teams in the state when it met Providence Catholic in a Chicago Catholic League Blue game on Friday.
The Ramblers outgained the Celtics 342-86 and jumped out to a 17-point lead at halftime to help them roll to an 31-7 victory, as they spoiled homecoming festivities at Senffner Field.
“There’s not one guy that stands out, they’re just a solid, physical team,” Celtics coach Mark Coglianese said. “Going through the playoffs, I don’t know if a team with more athletes can maybe get them. But they’re very strong in all areas. We’d get a good gain but then they’d come back and stuff us or get a sack and then put us back on our heels again.”
Dara Laja rushed for 165 yards on 25 carries and scored on runs of 74 and 4 yards, while Emmett Clifford was 17 of 23 passing for 142 yards and threw touchdown passes of 23 and 15 yards to lead the way for Loyola (6-0, 2-0).
Providence (2-4, 1-2) managed 57 yards on the ground and 29 through the air as it picked up only four first downs and was forced to punt on each of its nine possessions.
Brendan O’Hara, Brad Jenner and Dan McDonald were among the leading tacklers for the Celtics defense, which only allowed a 25-yard field goal by Patrick Tata in the first quarter while forcing the Ramblers to go three-and-out twice and kick two of their three punts.
But then Laja took over, carrying the ball nine times, to lead Loyola to a 72-yard scoring drive on 12 plays and a 74-yard touchdown run on the first play when it got the ball back. The Ramblers’ first touchdown was a 23-yard strike from Clifford to Eric Eshoo.
Laja collected 104 of his rushing yards and both of his catches for 15 yards during those two key series. The Ramblers piled up 222 of their yards during the opening half to help them grab a 17-point lead.
In the final half, Loyola put together another long drive the first time that it got the ball to grab a 24-0 advantage. The 15-play, 65-yard series spanned nearly half of the third period and was capped by a 4-yard run by Laja.
Loyola needed eight plays to cover 40 yards to go up 31-0 early in the fourth quarter when Clifford tossed a 15-yard pass to David Terrell (seven catches, 63 yards).
Mike Markasovic, who rushed for 48 yards on 15 carries, provided the Celtics with their lone highlight when he returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.
Providence, the defending Class 7A champions, needs to win its last three games in order to make the playoffs. That includes road contests at once-beaten Bishop McNamara and Brother Rice in the next two weeks before a home game with Lake Forest Academy.
Since 1991, the Celtics have advanced to the postseason in each season but 2010, when they were 1-5 at this point. They were 2-4 through six weeks in 2006 to ’08 and managed to not only win their final three games but also advance to at least the quarterfinals.
With several offensive linemen out and running back Richie Warfield not expected to return until perhaps the Brother Rice game, the Celtics coach understands the challenge at hand.
“It’s certainly not going to be easy and playing in this conference we know that things aren’t going to be easy,” Coglianese said. “Hopefully we start to get a little healthy. Our seniors have a lot of heart and we’re going to go to battle with what we have. Sure, we’d like to have a better record right now, but our guys are going to keep competing and keep