Only seven games into the Gene Nudo coaching era at Fenwick, the football team has already established an identity not caught up in moral victories. So, as hard and as well as the team played during Saturday’s 49-28 loss to Loyola, a lingering feeling of the one that got away in Wilmette remains for the Friars.

Fenwick junior quarterback Gino Cavalieri threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Pat Regan with 11:45 left in the game to knot the score at 28-all. But Loyola (6-1), last year’s Class 8A state runner-up, found another gear, scoring 21 unanswered points en route to the conference crossover win.

“Loyola made some plays down the stretch and we didn’t,” Nudo said. “We played well and kept battling. It was a back and forth game, but Loyola is a very high powered team.”

The Friars struck first when KeShaun Smith returned a blocked field goal attempt 90 yards midway through the first quarter to give Fenwick a 7-0 lead. The Ramblers responded with a pair of touchdowns on runs of one yard from running back Julius Holley (21 carries, 130 yards) and 11 yards from quarterback Peter Pujals (15-for-33, 260 yards) to go up 14-7. With a see-saw scoring pattern established, Fenwick took its turn on Bob Spillane’s 34-yard touchdown run to knot the score again at 14-14 with 1:37 remaining until halftime.

The Ramblers’ Kris Coker returned the opening kickoff of the second half 80 yards for a touchdown to briefly stun Fenwick, however, Cavalieri quickly remedied the situation on a 23-yard strike to Dan Lattner at the 8:23 mark of the third quarter, setting the score at 21-21. Midway through the third quarter, Holley scampered into the end zone on a 12-yard run to regain the advantage for Loyola at 28-21.

Fenwick provided its final reply on the aforementioned Cavalieri-to-Regan 80-yard connection, but Loyola closed the door on the Friars’ spirited upset bid with the following touchdowns in the fourth quarter: Luke Ford’s 13-yard catch, Chris Skinner’s 7-yard run and Pujals’ 23-yard run to pull out the 49-28 win.

For the game, Fenwick produced 292 yards of total offense (79 yards rushing, 143 yards passing) while Loyola amassed 526 yards offensively. Cavalieri (15-for-38, 143 yards, 2 TDs), Spillane (17 carries, 59 yards), Regan (5 catches, 105 yards) and Zach Laszkiewicz (four PAT, four kickoff touchbacks) starred for the Friars.

While giving up 49 points and over 500 yards of total offense seems like a far cry from a lockdown defense, Nudo credited his players on that side of the ball.

“Our defense has played well all year,” he said. “They had two interceptions, a fumble recovery, and were flying around getting to the football [against Loyola]. I thought they kept us in the game.”

Fenwick hosts Lake Forest Academy (3-4) on Saturday at Morton West (7:30 p.m.).

“Our first goal is to win the [Chicago Catholic League] White,” Nudo said.