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Loyola's Luke Ford Runs the ball against Providence. | Patrick Gleason ~ For Sun-Times Media
Many of the names and numbers have changed, but this Loyola football team is starting to look a lot like the Ramblers of recent years.
At the controls of the offense is a strong-armed quarterback with a stable of reliable receivers and on the other side of the ball is a physical defense with very high standards.
That was a potent combo on Saturday afternoon, when No. 6 Loyola opened Catholic League Blue play with a 41-21 win over No. 11 Providence in Wilmette.
Peter Pujals passed for 253 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score, and Julius Holley ran for two touchdowns for the Ramblers (3-1).
Darby Goodwin (fumble recovery) and Charlie Schatz (interception) had takeaways for the Loyola defense, which held Providence (3-1) to 80 second-half yards.
The Celtics hung close through three quarters, trailing just 21-14 heading into the fourth. But Pujals set the tone for this one early by completing passes to five different receivers in the first quarter alone. He was 20 of 26 for the day, with the completions divided among seven players.
It was reminiscent of recent years, when Malcolm Weaver spread the wealth among a range of receivers for the Ramblers. The only one of those guys back this year is Rich Wehman, whose four catches Saturday included one for five yards that was good for Loyola’s first score at 7:03 of the first quarter.
Other popular targets were Joe Dixon (six catches, 34 yards), two-way standout Luke Ford (four receptions, 119 yards) and Kris Coker (three catches, 56 yards).
Pujals appreciated the help he had. “Overall, no drops really,” he said. “The receivers played a real nice game, the O-line did a good job with protection.
“We knew we had to get a lot of short stuff ... we knew they weren’t going to let us go deep a lot.”
There were a couple of long pass plays for scores: a 56-yarder to Ford that made it 14-7 with 4:22 left in the second quarter, a 49-yarder to Coker that pushed the lead to 28-14 at 10:08 of the fourth.
But the TD to Ford came on a screen that he turned into a long gain, and Coker was wide open on the right sideline for his pass-and-run.
On Providence’s first play after Coker’s score, Goodwin recovered a Celtics fumble and Pujals scrambled 16 yards for a touchdown on the next play to make it 34-14. Holley (9 carries, 32 yards), who had a six-yard scoring run in the second quarter, had a three-yard TD run later in the fourth.
“We’re going to adjust to our personnel and the opponent,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “If they’re going to stack the box, we have to be able to throw.”
Providence’s first two scores were passes of 11 and four yards from Dominic Lagone to 6-4 sophomore Miles Boykin. Brandon Price added a one-yard TD run late.
“As a Loyola defense, when you let up points, you’re not doing your job,” Ford said. “If it’s not a shutout, there’s a lot of work to be done. And 21 points, that’s just way too much. We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board.”
But the Ramblers do so from the vantage point atop the conference standings. “We just wanted to come in here, the first Catholic League Blue game and kind of make a statement,” Pujals said.