Football Lions Have a Tough Time Against Marmion

The Leo Lions can offer grim affirmation of the old football axiom that quarterback is the most important position on the field.

Leo has scored just one touchdown in the three games since senior quarterback James E’Akels was lost to a concussion. With two untested subs manning the position, it’s really no surprise that the Lions’ losing streak reached three in a 34-0 Senior Day pasting by Marmion Academy at St. Rita’s Pat Cronin Field on Saturday, Oct. 16.

Leo might have known it was in for a rough day when Marmion linebacker Jacob Bottarini intercepted its first pass of the day and brought it back 36 yards for a touchdown. The Lions’ defense played with admirable purpose for the remainder of the half and kept Marmion from scoring again, though the Cadets were complicit in their own struggles, throwing an end-zone interception, losing a fumble at the 1-yard line and accumulating nearly 100 yards in penalties.

Junior cornerback Tim Durr made the interception and recovered the fumble.

But with four interceptions and three lost fumbles keeping the Lions from getting anything going offensively, their defense once again wore down from overuse. Marmion scored on its first three second-half possessions, twice as a result of turnovers, and a once-promising Leo season continued to deteriorate into an injury-ravaged 2-6 nightmare.   

Marmion quarterback Daniel Chung, meanwhile, was solid rather than spectacular in helping the Cadets (5-3) solidify their IHSA playoff hopes. Chung completed six of nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns, a 56-yarder to Joshua Lim and a 36-yarder to Alexander Valenzuela. Lim scored another touchdown on a two-yard run, and Anthony Kuceba scored from a yard out.

Leo’s offensive highlights were limited to junior Rayshaun Davidson’s 31-yard run and a 17-yard pop by senior Marcus Ray. The Lions’ longest pass play went for just eight yards, and they had only one completion in the second half.

Remaining on the Leo schedule is nonconference season finale at Rich Township on Saturday, Oct. 23. A decision on whether the game will be played is expected mid-week, as Rich Township has been dealing with COVID issues in recent weeks. 

Football Lions Stumble at Nazareth

By Dan McGrath

With a roster so depleted by injuries that it’s almost unrecognizable, the Leo Lions needed to be perfect to stand a chance against Nazareth in a Catholic League/East Suburban Catholc Conference crossover game in La Grange on Friday, Oct. 8.

Moreover, the Roadrunners, an uncharacteristic 2-4 coming in, were playing for their playoff lives … and celebrating homecoming before a large, festive crowd.

Four turnovers created an insurmountable gap between Leo and perfection.

To their credit, the Lions conceded nothing and competed gamely through the final whistle. But Naz just had too many weapons, and the 42-6 final was fairly indicative of where the two teams stand seven weeks into a nine-week regular season. 

One of the more potent Nazareth weapons is a mere freshman. Coach Tim Racki went with Logan Malachuk at quarterback after the Roadrunners opened with three straight losses. They’ve gone 3-1 in his four starts, and the Lions can attest to why after the youngster completed nine of 13 passes for 160 yards and four touchdowns: 36 and 15 yards to Quentrell Harris, 16 yards to James Penley and 11 yards to Justin Taylor.

Kaleb Miller (10 carries, 91 yards) added a 5-yard touchdown run, and Harris brought Leo’s first punt of the night back 48 yards for a score, setting the tone for the big-play fireworks to follow.

In James E’Akels’ injury-induced absence, Leo also went with a freshman quarterback. Derrion Lee connected on four of nine passes for 36 yards but was constantly under siege by Nazareth’s swarming defense and threw two interceptions that negated productive possessions. 

Junior Matthew Harvey (5-for-8, 43 yards) took over in the second half and was on the field for Leo’s lone touchdown, junior Rayshaun Davidson’s 17-yard run. 

Senior Rayion Davidson had a 51-yard run on a reverse and senior Austin Ford’s two catches covered 31 yards. That was pretty much the extent of Leo’s offensive highlights. 

With their IHSA playoff hopes dashed, the Lions (2-5) will be playing for pride when they host Marmion on Senior Day at St. Rita’s Pat Cronin Field on Saturday, Oct. 16. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. Their nonconference regular-season finale at Rich Township scheduled for Friday, Oct. 22 is likely to be canceled due to a COVID outbreak within the Rich Township School District.    

Football Lions Blanked by Marian Central

By David Gross ’22

On a wet Friday night to start the month of October, the Leo Lions traveled to Woodstock to face Marian Central Catholic in Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference football.

The Lions were without their starting quarterback, running back, linebacker and punter, and the injuries contributed to an inefficient showing on offense as Leo was blanked, 29-0.

The Lions were within 9-0 at halftime, but with the offense stymied, the defense wore down from overuse as Marian (2-3) pulled away in the second half to the 29-0 final.

Save for a 49-yard completion to senior wideout Austin Ford, Leo’s big plays came from its defense. Senior linebacker Jamari Allen had 11 tackles and a sack. Senior safety Tavion Gamblin made six tackles, and senior cornerback Rayion Davidson intercepted a pass.

Marian’s quarterback threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth.

The Lions (2-4) will hope for better health when they travel to La Grange to face Nazareth on Friday, Oct. 8. They play their Senior Day home finale against Marmion at St. Rita’s Cronin Field on Saturday, Oct. 16, and it might be their season finale as well; the Friday, Oct. 22 game at Rich Township is in danger of being canceled because of a COVID outbreak within the Rich Township school district.

Senior David Gross will graduate from Leo in May and intends to study sports journalism in college.  

Football Lions Fall to Montini in a Close One

Leo’s performance against Montini in a Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic crossover football game had too many distracting flaws to qualify as a thing of beauty, which was unfortunate. 

The Lions emptied the tank in terms of effort, only to fall 39-32 when Montini’s Cole Teschner threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Estevan Moreno to break a 32-all tie late in the final period before a Montini Homecoming crowd on Friday, Sept. 24 in Lombard.

With a steady, game-long drizzle intensifying, Leo traveled 43 yards in just over a minute on its final possession, but turned the ball over on downs after reaching Montni’s 24-yard line. The Broncos then ran out the clock, leaving both teams with 2-3 records … and the knowledge that they had been in an enervating, entertaining ballgame.

The second Teschner-Moreno TD collaboration of the evening was rather tame in comparison with the big-play haymakers that preceded it. Leo pulled even at 32 when a botched snap on a Montini field goal try wound up in Tim Durr’s hands and the junior defensive back brought it back 90 yards for a touchdown.

Earlier, quarterback James E’Akels and wide receiver Austin Ford hooked up for a 68-yard score, and junior running back Rayshaun Davidson turned a short gain into a 55-yard TD by keeping his legs moving and slipping through a pile of bodies just beyond the line of scrimmage. 

E’Akels completed 10 of 18 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns, one to Ford and one covering 12 yards to Rayion Davidson. He also had a three-yard touchdown run, while Marcus Ray’s 17 carries produced 96 yards.

Montini, meanwhile, hardly looked like a team that had managed just 55 points in its first four games. Teschner was 11-for-20 for 230 yards and TD throws of 16 and 27 yards to Moreno. He set up a third score with an 81-yard bomb to Julian Turner. Josh Robinson’s 18-carry, 155-yard night featured a 68-yard touchdown scamper. 

As the evening wore on, some after-the-whistle skirmishing spoke to both teams’ frustration with the officiating. Charitably speaking, the men in stripes were inconsistent with some of their calls, but, candidly speaking, two interceptions, a lost fumble, a blocked punt and careless penalties that wiped out two first-down gains were just as complicit in the Lions’ loss as suspect officiating. 

Next up for Leo is a trip to Woodstock for a meeting with Marian Central Catholic (1-3) on Friday, Oct. 1. The Lions find themselves needing to win three of their final four games to be assured of a playoff berth.  

Football Lions Back in the Win Column with Victory Over DePaul

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.

Football Lions Lose a Tough One to Carmel

By David Gross ’22

After a dominant win over Chicago Bulls Academy in their season opener and a one-score loss to Marian Catholic in Week 2, the Leo Lions played what was probably their best game of the season on Friday, Sept. 10.

But the end result was another one-score loss, 35-32 to Carmel Catholic on Senior Night before an estimated 2,000 fans in Mundelein. Carmel’s coach is Jason McKie, the former Chicago Bears fullback.

Each team scored five touchdowns, but the Corsairs were 5-for-5 on conversion kicks while the Lions were just 1-for-5 on two-point tries, accounting for the three-point differential.

Turnovers and minor mistakes that added up also contributed to the Lions’ undoing.

A 70-yard pass play on the game’s first series set up a Carmel touchdown, and the Corsairs never trailed in improving to 2-1. Leo fell to 1-2. 

Senior quarterback James E’Akels threw two interceptions and lost the ball on a strip sack but still enjoyed his most productive night of the season, running for two touchdowns and throwing for two while accumulating a career-high 282 passing yards and 21 rushing yards. 

Junior Kevin Jackson enjoyed a coming-out party with five receptions for 152 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown catch that brought the Lions within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Jackson also caught a two-point conversion pass and made an interception. 

Junior Merrick Sample had two catches for 65 yards, while senior Austin Ford’s lone reception went for 30 yards. 

Senior Marcus Ray was Leo’s leading rusher with 78 yards on 17 carries. Junior linebacker Isaiah Knox led the defense with 10 tackles. Junior cornerback Tim Durr had seven tackles and an interception.

Next up for the Lions is their Homecoming game against DePaul Prep (2-1) at St. Rita’s Cronin Field on Saturday at 7 p.m.

David Gross is a Leo senior who will graduate with the Class of 2022 in May.

Cross Country Lions Compete in SirLaurence King’s Coaching Debut

SirLaurence King’s debut as the Leo Lions’ cross country coach resulted in a sixth-place finish in the eight-team Connelly Invitational hosted by St. Ignatius in Romeoville on Saturday, Sept. 4.

The event was pretty much a Jesuit Jamboree as runners from Loyola Academy and St. Ignatius claimed 13 of the top 15 places, leading the Ramblers and Wolfpack to a 1-2 showing in the team standings.

Junior Jakeem Cole’s 42nd-place finish in 17:54.34 over the three-mile course led the Leo contingent; next came Tim Wilson (19:35.60), David Hannah (20:45.37), Arian Dean-Wheeler (21:59.37) and Khalifa Brandon (27:27.88). Keliche Mbah and fellow freshman Jerry Brown were the top Leo finishers in the frosh-soph meet.

“It wasn’t a bad showing for a first race, given that some of our guys hadn’t run competitively in a while,” King said. “Overall, we have a lot of talent. Now it’s all about being consistent with practice, not taking any shortcuts with preparation and following the game plan, and the results will speak for themselves.”

The remaining schedule:

Sat., Sept. 11: Lee Halberg Invitational, Springfield
Sat., Sept. 18: Julian Urbana Invitational, South Holland
Fri.,  Sept. 24: Brother Rice Invitational
Sat., Oct. 2: Lisle Main Event
Sat., Oct. 9: Jimmy Daniels Invitational, Richton Park
Sat., Oct. 16: CCL Championship, TBA
Sat., Oct. 23: IHSA Regional, TBA
Fri.,  Oct. 29: IHSA Sectional, TBA.

Football Lions Fall to Marian Catholic

The Leo Lions were impressive enough in their season-opening nonconference win over Chicago Bulls Academy to suggest they could be a quality, playoff-caliber football team.

What they demonstrated against Marian Catholic in Week 2 is that they’re not good enough to overcome a litany of damaging mistakes. Leo turned the ball over on its first two possessions, an interception and a fumble leaving the Spartans with short fields that almost invariably result in two-touchdown leads.

Try as they might the Lions could not climb out of that hole. A 20-12 loss at St. Rita’s Cronin Field on Friday, Sept. 3 left them with a 1-1 record … and the disquieting knowledge that a winnable game had slipped away from them.

“That first quarter killed us,” Coach Mike Holmes said. “We settled down and battled after that, but we put ourselves in a really tough spot.”

A goal-line stand just before halftime—Marian was turned back on four straight plays inside the 5-yard line—energized the Lions, and they made it a one-score game when quarterback James E’Akels hit fellow senior Austin Ford with a 65-yard touchdown pass on the first scrimmage play of the second half.

Marian then went three-and-out, and Isaiah Knox’s 14-yard punt return set Leo up at the visitors’ 37, only to have another lost fumble negate the opportunity. Marian failed to capitalize and was looking at fourth-and-seven when a suspect dead-ball personal foul call—Jakolbi Wilson was flagged for complaining that Marian’s linemen were holding him—gave the Spartans a drive-sustaining first down.

Ten plays later, Randall Nauden’s 6-yard TD run restored Marian’s two-touchdown lead. E’Akels’ and Ford hooked up for a 16-yard score that brought the Lions within 20-12 midway through the final period, but they could get no closer.

E’Akels completed eight of 17 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, finding Ford three times for 89 yards and both scores. With starting running back Marcus Ray sitting out the game on suspension, Leo had no semblance of a ground game, calling just six running plays that produced 27 yards.

Marian was under no such restrictions; Nauden (20 carries, 121 yards, two TDs) and slippery quarterback Kyle Thomas (15 carries, 90 yards, one TD) kept the chains moving all evening as the Spartans (1-1) dominated time of possession.

Next up for the Lions (1-1): a trip to Mundelein on Friday, Sept. 10 for a 7 p.m. game against Carmel Catholic (1-1).

Lions Football Team Victorious Against Bulls College Prep

By David Gross ’22

On a warm Saturday night, the Leo Lions started their season on an impressive note, with a 45-6 win over Chicago Bulls College Prep on Aug. 28 at St. Rita’s Pat Cronin Field. 

Senior Quarterback James E’Akels set the tone, hooking up with senior wide receiver Rayion Davidson for a 32-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage. Playing just over a half, E’Akels completed six of seven passes for 53 yards and two touchdowns. Davidson added a second touchdown on a 36-yard interception return. 

Senior running back Marcus Ray had seven carries for 49 yards and a touchdown, junior running back Rayshaun Davidson had a 32-yard TD run and senior Chris Lindo accounted for two additional touchdowns. But Leo’s defense was just as impressive, forcing five fumbles, registering 10 quarterback sacks and intercepting three passes, returning two of them for touchdowns, one by Davidson and one by senior linebacker Jamari Allen. 

 In fact, if the  first game is a glimpse into the season, the Lions’ defense will be a hard one to score on. Senior Jakolbi Wilson, the reigning Catholic League Red Division defensive player of the year, made three sacks and recovered a fumble. Allen had three sacks to go with his pick-six, and junior linebacker Isiah Knox finished with nine tackles.

 With the game in hand, backup QB Matthew Harvey got some significant playing time and displayed dual-threat potential.  

Leo’s next game is against Catholic League Red rival Marian Catholic (0-1) on Friday, Sept. 3rd at 7 p.m., also at Cronin Field. The season-opening nonconference win halted a 10-game losing streak for the Lions.

2021 Lions Football Looks Hopeful

Senior James E’Akels is primed for a big year as he begins his third season as the Leo Lions’ starting quarterback.

E’Akels surely has the arm to be an effective passer, and, in Raiyon Davidson, Merrick Sample, Chris Lindo and Rob Smith, the receivers to do some damage through the air. And with speedy Marcus Ray leading a group of promising running backs, the Lions should avoid the temptation to be as pass-happy as they occasionally were in recent years.

But E’Akels is a classic pocket passer, at his best when he has time to set up and scan the field. It will be up to a veteran line—tackles Jakolbi Wilson and William Anderson, guards Kaleb Lawrence and Theontae Jones, center Jamari Allen—to keep E’Akels upright and give him time to do what he does best.

Wilson, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year for the Catholic League Red Division, anchors a defense that should be much improved from the experience gained through a six-game spring season. Cornerback Tim Durr joined Wilson on the Red Division all-conference team. Junior Isaiah Knox and sophomore Joshua Burke bring speed and athletic ability to the linebacker position, and Jamari Allen will contribute to the defensive effort whether he plays end or linebacker.

The Lions once again will play their four home games at St. Rita’s Pat Cronin Field, with three of the four beginning at 7 p.m (the Marmion game on Oct. 16 kicks off at 1 p.m). After a nonconference home opener against Chicago Bulls Academy Charter on Saturday, August 28, the schedule turns typically Catholic League tough, with five wins total required for a playoff berth.