Roughly 17 months had passed since the Leo Lions had last played a football game when they took the field for a Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic crossover skirmish with St. Patrick at St. Rita’s Cronin Field on Saturday, March 20.

COVID concerns, of course, wiped out the 2020 high school season in Illinois and turned football into a spring sport.

And judging by the way things progressed on a gorgeous, sun-splashed spring afternoon, Leo could have used some additional prep time.

The Shamrocks hit the Lions with touchdowns on their first three possessions and had them back on their heels all afternoon. Leo’s defense got serious (and stingy) after the halftime break, but two Lion turnovers set St. Pat’s up for two additional scores, leading to a 35-8 final.

“You could tell we hadn’t played football in a while,” Coach Mike Holmes said. “Both teams.” 

With no running game to speak of, Leo was overly dependent on quarterback James E’Akels’ passing. The strong-armed junior connected on his first four throws, but finished 10-for-27 for 135 yards with one interception. In E’Akels’ defense, he had at least four balls dropped, including one in the end zone that would have gone for a second-quarter touchdown. And when he wasn’t running for his life from a pass rush that caught and dropped him six times, he was trying to corral shotgun snaps that would have tested the skills of a major league middle infielder.

E’Akels averted a shutout with a last-minute, 8-yard touchdown pass to Raiyon Davidson, whereupon fellow junior Rob Smith made the highlight reel play of the day with a leaping, one-handed snag of E’Akels’ two-point conversion pass.

St. Pat’s, conversely, didn’t get much out of the passing game, but didn’t need to with fullback Alex Goworowski piling up 91 yards on 12 carries with two touchdowns and Aaron Solis adding 51 yards on 10 tries with two scores. 

“We made too many mistakes to win, but we hung in there and got better as the game went on, especially on defense,” Holmes said. “If we’re willing to come to practice and put in the work to get better, we can build off this.”