Any head coach or defensive coordinator knows it takes only one missed assignment to lead to a game-changing mistake. Earlier this season, the missed assignments were piling up for Marist, which lost four out of five games at one point.
“There was a play here or a play there where one guy basically did the wrong assignment,” Marist coach Ron Dawczak said.
Three of those losses were one-possession games.
With four losses, Marist needed to beat CCL/ESCC Blue division opponent Loyola in Week 9 to qualify for the postseason. The RedHawks did, 14-6, on Oct. 26. Now those two will meet again in the Class 8A state quarterfinals at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Loyola in Wilmette.
Those missed assignments that plagued Marist defensively are coming fewer and farther between. The RedHawks have not allowed more than seven points in any game during their current four-game win streak.
“[It’s] being able to communicate to the kids that it’s 11 guys doing the same thing, understanding what your assignment is and carrying it out,” Dawczak said. “Don’t just memorize what I have to do, you really have to understand the entire defense and why you’re doing what you’re doing. The kids have really studied and all gotten on the same page.”
No. 23-seeded Marist (7-4) beat Glenbard East in the Class 8A first round, then defeated Huntley, 14-7, last week. No. 18 Loyola (8-3) went through Maine South in the opening round and erased a two-score deficit against Glenbard West for a second-round win, 28-27.
In the come-from-behind win over Glenbard West, Loyola leaned on running back Vaughn Pemberton, who ran for 131 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. The defending Class 8A state champs climbed out of a 14-point hole, and another 13-point hole to claim the one-point victory.
Pemberton, a junior, will be the one major difference between the Week 9 matchup of Loyola and Marist, and their quarterfinal matchup Saturday. In Week 9, Pemberton left the game in the first half with an injury.
His 32 carries last week make it apparent that Pemberton is back. That should provide an added challenge for the Marist defense.
“He’s a difference-maker,” Loyola head coach John Holecek said. “When he’s healthy and he’s got good blocking, he’s super dangerous. He’s got speed, power, vision and lateral quickness.”
While Marist’s defense went through some early season issues, Loyola’s faced a whole different set of problems this season. The Ramblers did not return a single starter form last year’s state championship defense.
Holecek, now in his 14th season coaching Loyola, said he has never had to replace 11 starters on one side of the ball.
“It’s almost impossible to do,” Holecek said. “You always have some talent [returning]. These guys, even the juniors, they’re tested now. They’re not the biggest, most seasoned, but we’re in Week 12, so there’s no more excuses.”
Neither head coach is surprised to see a CCL/ESCC Blue opponent this deep into the postseason. All four teams in the division (Loyola, Marist, and Brother Rice in 8A, Mt. Carmel in 7A) are still alive.
And a rematch, coming just three weeks after the first meeting, adds another wrinkle to a big-time quarterfinal game.
“This one is a little bit different in the fact that we’re playing them so close to the time we played them originally,” Dawczak said. “We’re both similar to what we were a couple weeks ago.”