I've just seen what I believe is one of the best, if not the best, defense I've seen in high school football in Illinois in the last 50 years. In fact, I've seen Loyola's defense in action on three occasions and I've never ceased to be impressed by its intensity, aggressiveness, depth, flexibility and versatility.
Oh, as fans and media, we tend to gravitate to the offense, the teams that average 40 or more points per game, the prolific passing teams, players such as St. Rita's Billy Marek, Maine South's Matt Perez, Wheaton Warrenville South's sensational passing attack of 1998 headed by Jon Beutjer and Jon Schweighardt and Joliet Catholic's 1999 powerhouse led by J.R. Zwierzynski.
But let's talk defense. Defense wins championships, remember? That's what we are constantly reminded of. That's what coaches preach. Defense, defense, defense.
But Loyola's defense, masterminded by former NFL linebacker John Holecek, is a joy to behold. In their last seven games, the Ramblers have allowed only five touchdowns, no more than one in any game. Their big test, of course, will come Saturday when they meet top-ranked Maine South in a Class 8A semifinal in Park Ridge.
What is particularly exciting about Loyola's defense is the leader is 5-11, 190-pound rush linebacker Pat Dougherty, who was named the Catholic League Blue's defensive player of the year. He is unblockable as he comes off the edge to terrorize quarterbacks. Just watching him is enough to make you glad you chose to attend a high school game instead of Northwestern/Illinois.
While Dougherty is the headliner, he has plenty of friends...tackle Chance Carter, who is committed to Northwestern, linebackers Jimbo Ford, Kyle Guziec and Tom Kelly and defensive backs Jimmy Bonner, Anthony Fassett and Shujaa Benson.
I've seen other great defenses. I'm sure you have, too. But I can't recall any of them that made such an impression.
Evanston's 1971 team, the best coach Murney Lazier ever produced, averaged 41.8 points in an 8-0 season while allowing only 38 and registering five shutouts, the last four in a row. But defensive end George Bridgeforth got little publicity.
Joliet Catholic's 1975 team, the best coach Gordie Gillespie ever produced, scored 434 points while winning the school's first state championship while allowing 80. The Hilltoppers allowed only five touchdowns during the regular season. Linebacker Roger Hewlett was the leader of the defense.
In 1976, Geneseo coach Bob Reade's best team was led by offensive star Wayne Strader but the defense registered four shutouts and allowed only two touchdowns in three other games.
St. Laurence's 1976 state championship team also boasted a physical, bone-jarring defense headed by Kevin Basic, whom coach Tom Kavanagh touted as the best player he ever coached, Jerry Barnicle, Mike Topps, Bill Baier and Pete Stanish.
Mount Carmel's 1988 squad, the best coach Frank Lenti has produced, scored 341 points while allowing 79. The Caravan allowed more than one touchdown in only one game and closed its magical season by beating three unbeaten teams.
But Loyola might not be the best defensive team of 2009. What about Glenbard North, which will test Marist and quarterback Mike Perish in another Class 8A semifinal this weekend?
Coach Ryan Wilkens' 4-3 defense is led by end Nick Abbate, the defensive lineman of the year in the DuPage Valley, end Chris Gavigan, linebackers Johnny Pullia and Chris Wahrman, cornerback Brandon Salemi and safety Andre Smith.