By Steve Millar
For one half of their season finale, Marist’s explosive passing attack and Loyola’s powerful running game traded punches in an entertaining back-and-forth battle.
But while the Ramblers continued to pile up yards on the ground in the second half, turnovers derailed the RedHawks. Visiting Loyola scored the final 29 points of the game and rolled to a 43-14 win over Marist in a CCL/ESCC Blue game. The Ramblers finished the pandemic-shortened season undefeated.
“We knew there were going to be opportunities and we just wanted to take advantage of them when they presented themselves,” Marist coach Ron Dawczak said. “Our guys were making plays. Going into halftime, we were right there.
“Then, we had a few turnovers and it kind of got away from us. They’re a great team. You can’t make mistakes like that against a team like that. My hat’s off to them. They made big plays.”
Marist (4-2, 2-2) outgained Loyola (6-0, 4-0) 265-239 in the first half, exposing some rarely seen holes in the vaunted Ramblers defense.
RedHawks junior quarterback Dontrell Jackson Jr. finished 18-of-31 passing for 286 yards, throwing for 212 of those yards in the first half. He hit senior Matt Rolek for a 25-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and ran for a 10-yard touchdown with 8:11 left in the first half to tie the game 14-14.
“We came out hard and came out strong,” Jackson said. “We made some plays. We saw a couple things on film and then they showed us some different things in the second half. They made halftime adjustments. They were just the better team.”
Loyola senior running back Vaughn Pemberton was unstoppable, running for 232 yards and five touchdowns on 23 carries. His third touchdown run, a 19-yarder, gave Loyola the lead for good at 21-14 with 5:17 left in the first half.
Marist had a golden opportunity to tie the game with under two minutes left in the first half, but Artist Benjamin intercepted Jackson’s pass in the end zone.
“We had a fade and it got jammed up, messed up the timing a little bit,” Jackson said. “The corner had space to pick it. It was just a miscommunication.”
Loyola came up with two more interceptions in the second half and forced a fumble by Jackson.
Rolek finished with six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown for the RedHawks, while Patrick Winters hauled in seven catches for 123 yards. Nick Verzoni had an interception.
Despite the loss, it was an exciting short season for Marist, highlighted by wins over rival Brother Rice and 2019 Class 7A state runner-up Nazareth.
“This season meant everything,” Rolek said. “This team really deserved it and our seniors deserved it. I’m really proud of this team and these seniors.
“The bond we’ve created is what I’ll remember. We’re like a family. I love these guys. I wouldn’t want any other group of brothers. I wouldn’t want to go to war with anyone else.”
Dawczak was glad his team got a chance to play.
“I told the guys after the game that our seniors provided great leadership,” he said. “When it didn’t look like we were going to play, they were still working out every day and doing what they needed to do to be ready in case they got that opportunity. When they got it, they seized it.
“They’re just a tremendous group and a great example for the younger guys in our program.”