Dominant defense and emerging star QB Ryan Fitzgerald lead Loyola past Marist

Loyola’s Ryan Fitzgerald (15) carries the ball for a touchdown against Marist.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Loyola is one of the few teams in the Chicago area that annually has more players than numbers. Multiple players share jersey numbers, and even very talented players often have to wait until their senior year to get on the field.

That doesn’t lend itself to anyone playing on both sides of the ball very often. But that’s exactly what senior Joe Kelly did in the No. 3 Ramblers’ 34-7 victory Friday at No. 18 Marist.

Kelly played defensive tackle and right tackle. Turns out it is a new family tradition.

‘‘The last player to do it was my brother [Christo] when he was a senior in 2019,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘He did it in a playoff game against Glenbard West. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t get to play every play. I was a little mad about that. Hopefully next week.’’

The Ramblers (3-0) expected to lean on their defense early in the season, and that unit has delivered. Marist quarterback Owen Winters ran for a two-yard touchdown in the second quarter, but that’s the only score the first-team defense has allowed this season.

‘‘We stuck together and shut them out after that,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘I was really proud of the guys.’’

Junior quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald, son of former Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, is developing into a star.

He shed three tacklers to score on a 12-yard run in the third quarter and was 13-for-18 for 227 yards and a touchdown through the air.

‘‘It was a really good game for him,’’ Loyola coach Beau Desherow said. ‘‘When we needed to respond [after Marist scored first], he led us right down the field. A lot of that was through his leadership and decision-making.’’

Fitzgerald played well in the Ramblers’ season-opening victory in Michigan but then was injured and left in the first half last week against Naperville North. He was back at practice Monday and ready to go.

‘‘It was just a bone bruise or something,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘The trainers did a great job helping me rehab, and I just have a little shin guard on it.’’

Costly penalties by Marist got Loyola to the 12 and this gutsy TD run from Ryan Fitzgerald gives the Ramblers a 17-7 lead with 7:49 left in the 3Q.

He shed 3 tackles.

— Michael O’Brien (@michaelsobrien) September 9, 2023

Ramblers junior Drew MacPherson had four catches for 129 yards, and William Carlson had two receptions for 44 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

And if a dominant defense and an emerging star at quarterback aren’t enough, Loyola also has a major weapon in kicker Michael Baker. The senior made 41- and 44-yard field goals.

A dead-ball penalty on Marist moved Loyola to the RedHawks’ 12 when the score was 10-7 in the third quarter. Fitzgerald ran for a touchdown on the next play, and the Ramblers never looked back.

‘‘There were one or two penalties on us, but we don’t want to start stuff,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘It’s all about team and good decisions and no extra noise.’’

Marist (1-2) returned only four starters from last season and has played a brutal schedule early on. The RedHawks lost 7-6 at Glenbard West in Week 1 and knocked off Brother Rice in Week 2.

‘‘From a personal standpoint, I definitely lost my cool, and the defensive line as a whole wasn’t together,’’ Marist junior Brad Fitzgibbon said. ‘‘The loss hurts, but we have to focus on the positives. Those were the toughest opening games in the state. I believe in this team a lot.’’

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