Loyola loses final 2018 contest, but there was no shame in the game for hard fighting Cubs

Loyola’s varsity football team concluded a season marked predominantly by futility and disappointment on a cool, foggy evening in Gardena on Friday, falling to Serra, 21-14, in both teams’ final conference game.

Ironically, the effort put forth by the Cubs in their season finale had the feel of a beginning rather than an ending. For the first time since its season opening victory over outmanned Fairfax, Loyola found the offensive rhythm and production that had eluded it for eight consecutive, frustrating weeks.

It was the type of effort that gave reason for optimism. Unfortunately, there will be no further opportunities to compete for the 2018 Cub contingent. But the squad can hold its head high as it went out fighting rather than retreating against a talented opponent that was desperately trying to keep its playoff hopes alive.

Turnovers that have dogged Loyola throughout the campaign, a touchdown that was called back on a controversial official’s call, a questionable pass interference penalty against the Cubs on a fourth down play in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, and the Big Blue’s inability to recover a perfectly executed onside kick after the Cavaliers’ last TD, all contributed to the loss in a contest that was there for Loyola’s taking.

The Cub ‘Wolfpack’ defense forced Serra to punt on three of the Cavaliers’ six first half possessions, held Serra on downs on another possession and forced a kneel down with seconds left before halftime on the home team’s sixth possession before the break. The Cavaliers scored their lone touchdown before intermission on a short run with 4:25 remaining in the first quarter to cap a 55-yard drive. 

Two plays may have proved the ultimate difference in the outcome of the contest for Loyola. After mounting an impressive drive late in the second quarter which covered 65 yards a Cub fumble at Serra’s 12 yard line extinguished a critical scoring opportunity. The second fateful play came in the second quarter when Loyola senior running back HUNTER BALLARD caught a short pass in the right flat, collided with and ran over a Cavalier defender and raced 32 yards for an apparent touchdown. While the Cub sideline erupted in jubilation, the officiating crew huddled for what felt like an interminable amount of time. In a “can you believe this?” call, not only was the epic catch and run called back, but Loyola was assessed a 15-yard penalty for targeting. The officials ruled that as Ballard lowered his head after the catch, he targeted the head of the defender who tried in vain to make the tackle. That call was one for Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not.” In a word, unbelievable. Ballard’s nullified catch and run came just after a 40-yard sprint by senior running back SPEED FRY VI.

At the 7:47 mark of the third quarter Serra’s running back bolted up the middle for a TD to cap an 86-yard drive. The Big Blue was undaunted. Ballard, whose muddy uniform evidenced his player-of-the-game effort-he also started at corner-caught a contested 25-yard scoring pass from senior quarterback NATHAN PRIESTLEY with 11:51 left in the game. Senior kicker NICHOLAS BARR-MIRA’s PAT kick drew the Cubs to within 7 points, making the score 14-7 in favor of the Cavaliers. Serra answered in short order with a 15-yard TD spint on the ensuing possession to up its lead to 21-7 at the 7:54 mark of the fourth quarter.

Loyola refused to fold. Priestley threw a 29-yard TD strike to junior tight end BRENDAN PERNECKY, who made a spectacular catch, with 4:59 left in the final stanza. Barr-Mira’s kick made the score 21-14. The Cubs elected to try an onside kick following its score. A perfectly executed bouncer by BARR-Mira was up for grabs for what seemed like an eternity, but Loyola was unable to corral the ball.

It appeared that the Cubs would have one last chance to start a potential game winning drive with over a minute to play. The Cavaliers faced a fourth down-and-14 situation when it’s 6’ 5” quarterback threw a well defended pass into the end zone. A delayed flag was thrown for pass interference, once again straining credulity. Serra thereafter ran out the clock and, in turn, Loyola’s most disappointing season since 1972.

The Cubs played with impressive resolve in the loss. And, yes, it felt like a beginning for Loyola, but unfortunately there are no games left to play for a team that could have thrown in the towel but refused to do so.