By Dan McGrath

Maybe it was the disappointment of back-to-back one-score losses, to Marian Catholic and Carmel/Mundelein.

Maybe it was the memory of a demoralizing shutout loss to DePaul Prep during the COVID-created Spring Football season earlier this year. 

Maybe it was the spirit of Homecoming.

Whatever the motivation, it spurred the Leo Lions to one of their more impressive performances in recent football seasons, a 28-14 spanking of DePaul Prep before a festive Homecoming crowd on a gorgeous Saturday night (Sept. 18) at St. Rita’s Cronin Field.

Both teams are 2-2 overall. Leo is 1-0 and the Rams are 0-1 in the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference Red Division.  

Balance was the byword for the Lions. They piled up 215 passing yards and 171 rushing yards, they were turnover-free and they mounted several long drives that produced four touchdowns and kept the ball out of the hands of Chris Perez, DePaul’s dual-threat senior quarterback.

Leo’s defense, meanwhile, pitched a shutout until late in the third period, when a bad punt snap gave the Rams the ball inside the 10-yard line, setting up their first touchdown. Late in the fourth they added a garbage-time score, putting together a drive that helped Perez finish with credible numbers: 12-for-21 passing for 103 yards and a 5-yard TD flip to sophomore Lavelle Hardy; 13 carries for 80 yards and a 10-yard TD run that brought the final score to 28-14 with less than a minute left. 

The Lions spread the wealth on offense as senior quarterback James E’Akels completed 12 of 25 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown, a 27-yard strike to fellow senior Rayion Davidson, who had five catches for 101 yards. Austin Ford’s three catches produced 70 yards. 

Marcus Ray carried 21 times for 92 hard-earned yards and touchdowns covering eight and four yards. Ray cost himself a third score when he lost the ball while crossing the goal line, but teammate Chris Lindo was there for the recovery and the touchdown. The play was indicative of Lindo’s right-place/right-time evening; he also had three catches for 28 yards and 24-yard run on a fourth-and-five fake punt play that kept a Leo scoring drive alive.

Tim Durr gained 56 yards on eight carries and joined defensive tackle Jakolbi Wilson and linebacker Isaiah Knox in making tackles all over the field. Kevin Jackson’s end-zone interception denied the Rams a scoring opportunity when it was still a ballgame.

Not to be overlooked: Senior Will Anderson was 4-for-4 on PAT kicks, one week after Leo disained PAT kicks for two-point tries and converted just one of five in a three-point loss at  Carmel/Mundelein. 

Next up for the Lions: a trip to Lombard and a meeting with Montini on Friday, Sept. 24, 7 p.m. kickoff. Leo hasn’t beaten Montini in the eight years the Broncos have been Catholic League members, but Montini is an uncharacteristic 1-3 after recent losses to Marmion and St. Laurence. Maybe this is the year.