~ Photo by Miles Postema
The Rockford Rams kicked off the 2018 football season by hosting Illinois powerhouse Loyola Academy of Wilmette, Friday, Aug. 24. The Ramblers had been to the state championship tilt in the large school division in Illinois the past three seasons while claiming one crown in 2015. If their performance in this game was any indication of what the current season portends, the Ramblers and their fans may want to make reservations for a fourth consecutive trip to the finals. Showing tremendous acumen in every facet of the game, Loyola dominated from start to finish in dismantling Rockford to the tune of 27-7.
"Loyola is an extremely well-coached team and has athletes everywhere," said Rockford head coach Ralph Munger. "They probably go at least 40 players deep with players who have excellent athleticism."
Loyola ran up 291 yards of total offense in the first half, to 38 for Rockford. Loyola scored a touchdown on their opening possession to go up 7-0 before fumbling at the Ram 1-yard-line the next time they had the ball to keep it a 7-0 game and give the home fans a brief hope of making it a game. The next Rambler possession resulted in a 25-yard field goal with 10:37 left in the first half to make it a 10-0 game.
Another errant snap on the next Rambler possession gave Rockford the ball at the Loyola 35 and it gave the Rams their best chance to dent the scoreboard in the first half. But the offensive struggles continued for Rockford and the best they could muster was a missed field goal from 45 yards. The Ramblers took over at their own 20 following the miss with only 1:26 left in the half. The pervading thought was they may rest on the laurels of a dominant first half and take that 10-0 lead into the locker room. But, seven plays and less than a minute later, an 18-yard TD pass made it a 17-0 game at the break.
The second half saw the Rockford defense stiffen to a large extent as they held Loyola to only 112 yards while amassing 90 of their own. But, a 34-yard field goal and a 10-yard interception return made it a 27-0 game with 4:34 left in the third quarter.
Rockford got on the board in the final stanza after completing a 13-play, 61-yard drive. Jack Richardson capped off the drive for Rockford on a fourth-down-and-three counter play with 6:04 left. Teagen Lenderink added the point after and it was a 27-7 game.
The Rams mounted one more drive into Loyola territory with under a minute left, but that drive fell short following another interception.
"This team will improve over the course of the year, but we have a lot of room for improvement in a lot of areas," said Munger. "This is a young team that got their first taste of competition against an excellent opponent. We will just look at the film and take the necessary steps to get better as a team."
It doesn't get a whole lot easier for Rockford next week. The Rams will make their first road trip of the year to take on another local power when they travel to Lowell. The game will be played on Thursday, Aug. 30, at 7 p.m. in deference to the Labor Day holiday weekend.