Photo by Jeff Vorva
The first play of the game went wrong for Marist as Darshon McCullough injured his right ankle during a kickoff scrum and, after missing the first offensive series, said the injury affected his running during a 41-0 loss to Loyola in the Class 8A state championship game.
DeKALB -- The Marist crowd was fired up.
The players were yelling.
The coaches were hollering and gesturing.
The big game was ready to go.
It was show time.
The IHSA Class 8A State Football Championship was about to begin with underdog Marist, seeded 23rd taking on No. 1 Loyola. The RedHawks were ready to receive the kickoff and try to establish things early. But on the kickoff return, 10 Redhawks came out of the scrum and one, senior Darshon McCullough, collapsed on the frozen Huskie Stadium turf with an ankle injury that kept the running back/receiver out of the lineup for the first series – a quick three-and-out.
The rowdy crowd got quiet for a few minutes while their star back was prone. That wasn’t the way the RedHawks wanted to start. The tone was set and bad things kept happening to Marist all night in the 41-0 setback Saturday night. The RedHawks had gone 96 straight games without being shut out until that contest.
McCullough played in the game and put up some good receiving numbers (six catches for 113 yards) but only ran the ball once for a seven-yard gain as the RedHawks were held to minus-two yards of rushing on the night.
Would a 100 percent healthy McCullough have made a difference? That’s debatable but his tender right ankle and the Ramblers’ Fort Knox-like first-string defense made life miserable for the RedHawks in the title game.
“I’m not sure what happened – I think somebody bumped into me and I just landed wrong on my ankle,” said McCullough, who entered the game with 607 yards rushing and 1,003 yards receiving. “It did affect me, but I had to have a mental toughness.
When I first hurt it, I thought it was worse than I expected.’’ The usually high-octane Marist offense was held to 174 yards and 116 of them came on the final two drives of the game during the running clock after Loyola (14-0) took a 41-0 lead.
Meanwhile the Marist defense had fits with the balanced Ramblers attack as Loyola had 208 yards on the ground and 195 in the air. Quarterback Emmett Clifford threw for 195 yards and a touchdown and added a rushing touchdown. Dara Laja, who entered the game with 1,702 yards for the Ramblers, ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jack Marwede carried the ball two times for three yards resulting in two touchdowns.
Marist (8-5) upset No. 10 Niles Notre Dame, No. 7 Barrington and No. 15 Oswego to get to the 8A semis and beat 30th-seed Waubonsie Valley to get to DeKalb. Few thought the team would get this far.
“The last five weeks sums up this group of seniors,” Marist coach Pat Dunne said. “What they’ve done and how they’ve done it showed resilience, perseverance and determination. That will not only help them this year but throughout their career. This is a special group that will be successful throughout their lives. “It hurts now, but they learned some life lessons.’’
Quarterback Brendan Skalitzky was bottled up most of the night as he was sacked five times. He was 13 of 32 for 176 yards and an interception. He ran 13 times for 17 yards. On the season, he finished with 3,705 yards passing and 1,084 yards rushing for 4,789 total and accounted for 47 touchdowns.
“They were fast and that was the best defense we’ve seen,” the senior signal caller said. “This was a season I will never forget. I’m proud of our guys and we never gave up. We made it to the state championship. “We didn’t get the ultimate goal but I’m still proud of our team.’’