Nine-time state football champion Archbishop Moeller, which is 1-6 all-time versus record 11-time state champion Saint Ignatius, will face the Wildcats under the Friday night lights of Memorial Stadium on the campus of Otterbein University.
Saint Ignatius and Archbishop Moeller, who feature two of the most tradition-rich athletic programs the Buckeye State has to offer, will kick off at 7 pm on Memorial Stadium's Dwight C. Ballenger Field.
In 2014, the Crusaders and the Wildcats began playing at a neutral site. Saint Ignatius defeated Archbishop Moeller, 34-20, at Dublin Coffman Stadium in the fall of 2014 and in 2015, also at Dublin Coffman Stadium, the Crusaders earned their first football triumph over the Wildcats, a 55-52, down-to-the-wire thriller. Moeller entered the 2014 season with back-to-back state championships in 2012 and 2013.
Last season at Otterbein University, Saint Ignatius, behind four touchdowns by quarterback Patrick Ryan '17 (three running and one passing) and a defense that limited Archbishop Moeller to just 15 yards rushing, wore down the Crusaders, 38-7.
Two of the Wildcats' six victories over Archbishop Moeller came in Division I State Championship Games, a 34-28 triumph in 1989 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus and a 38-20 victory in 1993 at Massillon's Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. Those state-title game victories over the Crusaders clinched the first two of Saint Ignatius' three National Titles. The third national crown was awarded in the 'Cats' state-championship season of 1995.
As for Friday's eighth gridiron encounter with "The Men from Moeller," the Crusaders will take Dwight C. Ballenger Field on a three-game losing streak, including a 42-14 loss to the Elder Panthers last Friday night in the legendary atmosphere known as "The Pit." The Wildcats' faithful were introduced to "The Pit" during Saint Ignatius' hard-earned, to say the least, 30-28 Week 5 victory at Elder.
Elder jumped on Moeller early, scoring 21 unanswered points in the first 15 minutes. Junior quarterback Michael Bittner played the game of his young career while running a Panthers' offense that was without talented quarterback Danny Neiman (injury).
Bittner passed for 219 yards, rushed for 81 and laid five touchdowns (three passing and two rushing) on the Crusaders. It was reported by the media on hand in The Pit that Bittner entered the Moeller game with just one touchdown pass while wearing the Royal Purple and White of Elder.
Despite their three-game losing streak and a 3-4 record, the Crusaders will enter Friday's game versus Saint Ignatius as the sixth-ranked team in the Division 1, Region 4 OHSAA Computer Rankings. Under the OHSAA's Harbin playoff format, the top eight teams in each of the state's regions at the end of the regular season qualify for the Regional Quarterfinal Playoffs.
Saint Ignatius (7-0) is the No. 1 program in the Division 1, Region 1 OHSAA Computer Rankings, is currently ranked second to St. Xavier in the latest Associated Press Division I State Poll, and is recognized by USA Today as the fifth-ranked team in the Midwest and the 10th-ranked team in the Super 25 National Computer Poll.
Moeller, whose 4-6 record in 2016 was the first sub-.500 season in its illustrious football history, suffered a tough setback in a Week 5 home game versus the defending Division I State Champions and currently 7-0 Bombers from St. Xavier.
With just over a minute remaining in the first half of St. Xavier's 30-7 victory, Crusaders gifted junior quarterback Miles "Deuce" McBride suffered a leg injury and had to be carried from the field. Before the injury, Miles had produced 17 touchdowns on the season and appeared to be on his way to a big-yardage fall as well. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound McBride helped Moeller to a Division I State Runner-Up finish in basketball last winter. The Crusaders lost to Massillon Jackson, 39-38, in the state title game.
Mitch McKenzie, a 6-3, 175-pound junior, has, as Saint Ignatius' Hall of Fame Head Coach Chuck Kyle '69 emphasized, done an admirable job as McBride's replacement.
Among Moeller's key ground gainers are 6-0, 205-pound Chrystopher Watkins, who doubles as a linebacker, and the 5-10, 210-pound Colin Thurman. As for the receivers, keep an eye on 6-4, 210-pound senior Jack McCracken and junior R.J. Khayo. Khayo also returns kickoffs and punts.
On the other side of the ball, the Crusaders are led by 6-2, 223-poud junior linebacker Luke Szabados and 6-3, 185-pound senior defensive back Alex Deyhle, who have 57 and 50 tackles, respectively. Both young men have totaled 36 solo tackles.
Ryan Mullaney, a 6-2, 230-pound junior lineman/linebacker, has 32 tackles and 7.5 sacks. Robert Jones, a 6-0, 175-pound senior defensive back, has been in on 36 tackles, including 26 solos, William Hodge, a 6-0, 170-pound senior defensive back, has been involved in 35 tackles with 27 solos, and 6-0, 195-pound sophomore defensive back Joe Toepfer is credited with 23 solo tackles among the 37 he has joined in on.
A TIE THAT TRULY BINDS: Archbishop Moeller's 6-2, 205-pound senior linebacker/wrestler Samuel Wyche is the grandson of former NFL player and former Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach Sam Wyche.
FROM COACH KYLE ON THE 2017 ARCHBISHOP MOELLER CRUSADERS: "We've been fortunate," Coach Kyle said of the success his Wildcats have had versus Moeller. "They're an excellent program and we've made some plays. We have played some good games.
"Last year, I thought that was a big step in our progress," Coach Kyle continued in reference to Saint Ignatius' 38-7 victory over the Crusaders at Otterbein University. "That really gave us a big lift as we went into St. Xavier and then played St. Edward (at the Browns' FirstEnergy Stadium).
"It's a very good football team," emphasized Coach Kyle of what he and his outstanding staff have seen of Moeller on film. "Offensively, their running backs are impressive. They have two of them that are very good and their offensive line works well as a unit. They run the zone play really well.
"Obviously, they have had an injury with the quarterback," said Coach Kyle. "The young man (Mitch McKenzie) who has gone in is getting better and better each week. He got thrown in there part way through the St. Xavier game, but since then he has thrown the ball nicely and is getting more confident.
"Defensively, their line has strong kids and in their pass rush they will commit to some blitzes. They're very good at line games, slants and twists. Last week's game (versus GlenOak) we saw some twisting. We got used to it a little bit, but Moeller does it really well. We have been putting in a lot of work on that, so hopefully we'll step up."
Coach Kyle said his Wildcats are a little banged up, which is not unusual at this point of the season. With the players faithfully doing their treatments, Coach Kyle expects them to be back at it as the later part of the week approaches.
JAYVEES AND FRESHMEN: The Wildcats' 5-1 Junior Varsity Team and 4-3 Freshmen Team are scheduled to face Archbishop Moeller's Freshmen and Jayvees on Saturday at Otterbein University. The Freshmen game is scheduled to kick off at 10 am, followed by the JV game at 11:30 am.
Have a wonderful rest of the week and weekend, and, in the words of The Plain Dealer's late great Stark County Sports Columnist Hymie Williams, "Goodbye until the next time, which will be the best time."