Loyola kicked off the Drew Casani coaching era with a dominating 38-0 demolition of St. Bernard at Smith Field on Friday night. In fairness, the significance to be accorded the Cubs’ impressive opening game performance of 2019 must be tempered with the reality that the undersized Vikings dressed only 28 players and were otherwise woefully outmanned by a Loyola crew that was bigger, faster and stronger than its non-league opponent from Playa del Rey.

The most important takeaway from the contest for the Cubs was the MANNER in which they played the first football game of the season. There was a notably physical aspect to Loyola’s efforts on offense, defense and special teams. Toughness has been a glaringly absent component of the Big Blue’s ethos, with of course some exceptions, for over a decade.

It is way too early to declare that the program has turned the proverbial corner, especially given the quality of Friday’s foe. St. Bernard was ranked 511th in the state by CalPreps heading into the contest. The Cubs’ next game is against the 19th ranked team in the state, the St. Augustine Saints, on the road in San Diego. So a much more realistic barometer of where Loyola is in terms of cultural change will reveal itself this Friday at Mesa College against a squad that returns 18 starters from the CIF San Diego Section Division II championship group, all of whom are exponentially better than the crew Loyola faced in its opener.

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the Cub victory against St. Bernard was the swarming, gang tackling performance of the ‘Wolfpack’ defense. Led by a cadre of hard hitters, Loyola’s stop unit was swarming and smothering all night. The Vikings were held to a paltry 86 yards of total offense, 27 yards passing and 59 yards on the ground, and St. Bernard garnered just two first downs.

Leading defensive coordinator Mike Gilhooly’s attacking platoon were senior inside linebacker STEVEN ARELLANO (14 tackles, 9 unassisted tackles, 3 TFL) and senior nose guard MARIANO UY (8 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL). Senior outside linebacker CALVIN LAUGHLIN (6 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL), senior inside linebacker NIKKO GONZALEZ (8 tackles), senior defensive lineman BARRET KELLY (7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL), junior defensive lineman JEFF JOHNSON (6 tackles, 1 sack), and junior outside linebacker FINNEGAN POWELL (7 tackles, 3 TFL) all put up impressive numbers. The physical play of junior corner ZAKHARI SPEARS was also praised by Casani. The ‘Wolfpack’ completed shut down the Vikings’s heralded running back, Jakai Torres, who rushed for 1,770 yards in 2018.

The debut of new offensive coordinator Matthew Hatchette could not have gone much better as Loyola amassed 355 yards of total offense behind excellent play calls. Not surprisingly, several of the stars from last year’s league champion freshman team, one of the school’s best ever, accounted for the vast majority of yardage gained and 30 of 38 of the Cubs’ points scored. Sophomore running backs TAHJ OWENS (11 carries for 117 yards, 10.6 ypc, 2 TDs) and HARRISON ALLEN (12 carries, 90 yards, 7.5 ypc, 2 TDS ) made impressive varsity debuts. Equally impressive was the performance of sophomore wide receiver JACOBY KELLY (3 receptions, 101 yards, 33.7 yards per reception, 1 TD), who was robbed by the referees of one long distance circus catch reception which was erroneously ruled incomplete.

Making his first start at quarterback was junior transfer BRAYDEN ZERMENO, who finished the evening with 162 yards on 10 of 15 attempts (67 %). He also threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Kelly. The 6’4”, 218 lb. Zermeno showed off a strong arm and quick release. He also gained 36 yards on three carries.

Casani was quick to laud the efforts of the offensive line comprised of senior tackles SAM DOMINGUEZ (6-3, 255) and SHANE STROYKE (6-5, 315), senior center NICK ANDERSON 6-0, 270), senior guard HUNTER SAMUELSON (6-5, 265) and sophomore guard SAM YOON (6-4, 245). The line corps made numerous pancake blocks.

Special teams’ tackling on the kickoff and punt return units was impressive. Senior kicker DIEGO BURGOS was five-for-five on PATs and kicked a 30-yard field goal in the third quarter to put the Big Blue up 31-0.

Allen scored Loyola’s first and final touchdowns on runs of 30 and 17 yards. Owens scored on sprints of 59 and six yards. Zermeno’s TD throw to Kelly came in the third quarter.

Toughness was on display to open the season. It will take relentless physicality and near perfect execution for the Cubs to topple the number two-ranked team in the CIF San Diego Section this Friday as Loyola continues in its quest to change the trajectory of its storied football program.

Just how tough are these guys? Stay tuned.