By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
On a night in which an 80 percent chance of precipitation was predicted, a rainbow appeared over Loyola’s Messmer Stadium about an hour before kickoff.
Some might have taken that as a curiosity. The Loyola community took it as a sign.
The same kind of sign as the Flyer players and cheerleaders coming dressed with pink accents to their uniforms.
The same kind of sign that more than 30 percent of the Class of 2022 came in from different colleges to attend this game that wasn’t even Homecoming.
Loyola’s 41-22 win over North Caddo Friday night meant a lot in the District 1-2A standings, but that’s nothing compared to what it meant to a school community that had been rocked during the week by the sudden death of Hannah Pham, who was a freshman at the University of Arkansas.
Five months ago, the wheelchair-bound student graduated with the Loyola Class of 2022. Next week, she will be buried.
There’s no doubt that the Flyers were happy to upset the No. 8-ranked Titans, but that joy was magnified because of how they had handled the passing of one of the most popular students the school has seen in quite a while.
“This is the best win ever,” said senior running back Trace Wall, who rushed for a career-high 156 yards, “because I know Hannah is happy.”
Pink was not only Pham’s favorite color, it was also the color of her sorority (Phi Mu). But it was the green of the end zone where the Flyers found their success.
It was a game in which Loyola (5-3, 4-0) kept getting better as the game went along and North Caddo (6-3, 2-2) went the other direction.
The Flyers took a couple of gut punches early – a 59-yard touchdown reception by Jquay Vinson and a 53-yard scoring run by KJ Black – but kept hanging in the game, trailing only 14-12 at half.
Once Loyola got the break it needed – a well-placed third-quarter kickoff that North Caddo almost seemed to ignore – the Flyers found the spark they were looking for.
“We are a team of momentum,” Wall said. “Once we get a stop and a touchdown, we just keep going. We inspire each other.”
Quarterback Cooper DeFatta was certainly a big part of that inspiration. The senior had a hand in five touchdowns – three rushing and two passing – and finished with 177 total yards.
DeFatta’s 6-yard run had cut the Titans’ lead to 22-20 before Evan Lirette’s high kickoff bounced around in Titan territory. Sophomore Patrick Gosslee fell on it at the North Caddo 17. Six plays later, DeFatta was in the end zone again (a 1-yard sneak) and the Flyers had a lead it would never lose.
The Titans had no answer after that with the next three possessions ending in interceptions (by Robert Pavlick, Colin Lirette and Reagan Coyle).
Meanwhile, the Flyers kept pounding away on the way to a 295-yard rushing performance. At one point in the second half, Loyola called 21 straight running plays.
Only one of them didn’t gain yardage.
“I knew we could move the ball on them, and Trace was fantastic,” Loyola coach Mike Greene said. “I just didn’t know if we could score enough or stop them enough. It took us a half to catch up with the speed of the game, but you could see how we just kept pounding it at them.”
The Flyers, winner of five straight, now sit atop the District 1-2A standings and will end the regular season with a home game against the other team with a 4-0 district record – Calvary.
“We are playing next week for a district championship,” Greene said. “That’s all we are looking for.”
That, and maybe another rainbow.
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Loyola 41, North Caddo 22
Score by quarters
NC | 16 | 0 | 6 | 0 | – 22
LCP | 7 | 7 | 13 | 14 | – 41
NC – Jquay Vinson 59 pass from Aiden Brock (KJ Black run)
L – Rowan Guthikonda 21 pass from Cooper DeFatta (Evan Lirette kick)
NC – Black 53 run (Black run)
L – Reagan Coyle 31 pass from DeFatta (Lirette kick)
NC – Omarion Miller 21 pass from Mason Jackson (run failed)
L – DeFatta 6 run (run failed)
L – DeFatta 1 run (Lirette kick)
L – Trace Wall 2 run (Lirette kick)
L – DeFatta 20 run (Lirette kick)
North Caddo (20-149) – Black 11-109, Jackson 5-27, Miller 3-12, Aiden Brock 1-1.
Loyola (54-295) – Wall 28-156, DeFatta 16-91, Patrick Gosslee 5-28, Jon Ebarb 2-10, Coyle 3-10.
North Caddo (14-26-3, 211 yards) – Brock 6-12-2, 124 yards; Jackson 8-12-1, 87 yards; Black 0-2-0.
Loyola (6-11-0, 86 yards) – DeFatta 6-11-0, 86 yards.
North Caddo – Vinson 7-112, Jackson 1-41, Miller 5-37, Brock 1-21.
Loyola – Robert Pavlick 3-18, Coyle 2-47, Rowan Guthikonda 1-21.