Even in the biggest and deepest receiver room in the state, Loyola senior Nicholas Arogundade keeps finding ways to stand out.
Arogundade found himself wide-open on the first play from scrimmage Saturday against St. Ignatius. Quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald’s pass was on target, and Arogundade was off to the races for an 80-yard touchdown only 12 seconds into the Class 8A quarterfinal.
Fitzgerald and Arogundade teamed up for another touchdown, this time for 54 yards, late in the second quarter of No. 1 Loyola’s 41-7 victory against No. 20 St. Ignatius. The defending Class 8A champion Ramblers will play York in the semifinals.
Entering the game, Loyola had 20 players who had caught at least one pass and nine who had a touchdown reception. The leader in catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions was Arogundade.
Why is he No. 1? Size, speed and effort, among other things.
‘‘It really started with the work he did in the offseason,’’ Loyola coach Beau Desherow said of the 6-2, 175-pounder. ‘‘Then over the summer, when we had our 25 days of prep, he just kept getting better and more confident. He’s a very good route-runner, he’s a student of the game [and] he watches a ton of film.’’
The opening touchdown was no accident. Loyola wanted the ball first and wanted to make an early statement.
‘‘We knew we were going to go at it on that first play,’’ Desherow said. ‘‘We wanted to set the tone. We wanted to score early.’’
Arogundade said the Wolfpack gave the Ramblers the defensive look they expected, then it was just a matter of executing the play.
‘‘We wanted to start out slow, make it seem like a run, draw them down,’’ Arogundade said. ‘‘They bit for it, I got over the top and magic happens.’’
‘‘Yeah, he was wide-open and just faster than everyone,’’ said Fitzgerald, who was 5-for-5 for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
Fitzgerald appreciates all the pieces of Loyola’s offense, which besides all those receivers features two capable running backs in Drew McPherson and Finley Miller. McPherson had 13 carries for 84 yards, including touchdown runs of nine and 10 yards. Miller had eight carries for 54 yards and a touchdown, and Fitzgerald ran eight times for 57 yards and a touchdown.
‘‘Our whole offense is dangerous,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘With Drew, Will [Carlson], Mikey [Baker], [Brendan] Loftus — all those guys are dangerous. But with me and Nick, it’s just feeling that connection.’’
Loyola scored on five of its six first-half possessions to open a 34-0 lead, then scored on its first series of the third quarter to trigger a running clock.
St. Ignatius (8-4) started 2-3 but had won six games in a row after moving up from Class 6A to Class 8A this season and winning the CCL/ESCC Green.
The Wolfpack have leaned on Justin Scott, a 6-4, 310-pound lineman who is committed to Ohio State and is the 12th-ranked senior in the country, according to 247Sports. Scott even has been used at fullback lately. But St. Ignatius coach Matt Miller said Scott has been dealing with nagging injuries, and his playing time was limited Saturday (though he did block an extra point).
‘‘There was definitely a point early in the season when we were all pretty worried and frustrated,’’ Miller said. ‘‘[Now] we feel like we belong.’’
But this game showed Miller that the Wolfpack still have work to do to become competitive with teams such as Loyola.
‘‘In January, that game was won,’’ he said. ‘‘We just got out-physicaled everywhere — on the inside, on the outside. We’ve got a lot of work to do.’’