High School Football: Loyola dominates power Ohio St. Xavier in nationally televised matchup

There are 119 players on the Loyola varsity roster. 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 has been that way for a few years. That kind of size mixes on a basketball court, but on a 6-6 high school football field it’s uncommon.

Bahr’s leading defense was rare and exceptional Saturday at 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 came 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’s coach, John Holecek, excels at building defenses, so it wasn’t considered a long-term problem.

But Loyola’s 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 more proud.”

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

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

“That’s from the preparation we built for a month,” Stearney said. “We have established trust and it is tremendous. It’s good to have reliable targets.”

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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 receptions for 95 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown.

Loyola wasn’t expected to have much of a threat at running back this season. He throws that out the window. Sophomore Drew MacPherson had 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 amazing,” Holecek said. “I didn’t think those guys were going to walk past too many people, but they certainly looked good today.”

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

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

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

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

“All the people that were brought here from Ohio were amazing,” Parker said. “It really increased the energy and that was great.”

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

“I told the kids I’m going to own this one,” St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said. “We weren’t ready to play. But that is a very good football team. They played hard, fast and physical. They are going to be difficult this year.”

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