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Football History

A History of Wildcats Football

By Mr. Eddie Dwyer

Cleveland, Ohio - On September 11, 2015, the Saint Ignatius Wildcats added another milestone to their illustrious football legacy by playing their 1,000th game.

Coach Chuck Kyle's Wildcats, scoring all of their points in the first half, defeated the Valley Forge Patriots, 41-0, on Byers Field in Parma's Robert. M. Boulton Stadium.

Although the early years of Saint Ignatius football were not laden with the success Wildcats faithful have grown accustom to, the man who put the football program on the local map was Mr. Ralph Vince, a graduate of Martins Ferry High School and Washington & Jefferson University who studied law at Western Reserve University.

The astute and eloquent Coach Vince guided his Golden Tornado, as Saint Ignatius was known then, to a City Championship in 1925, a 15-game winning streak and an overall record of 29-6 from 1923 through 1926. Those 29 victories included a City Runner-Up finish in 1926 and 19 shutouts. Coach Vince's legendary 1925 team yielded just 25 points all season and compiled 25 consecutive shutout quarters.

In 1925 and 1926, the Golden Tornado posted 8-1 seasons.

Although the makeup of Ohio High School Football changed dramatically in 1972 with the birth of the Ohio High School Athletic Association's Harbin Postseason Computer Playoffs, Saint Ignatius continued to enjoy success on the area gridirons.

And directing a huge portion of those winning ways were Saint Ignatius Hall of Fame inductees, Coaches Mr. John J. Wirtz and Mr. Paul Nemec.

From 1951 through 1970, Coach Wirtz led his Wildcats to four City Championships and an overall mark of 146-40-6. Coach Wirtz put together one of the greatest teams in the history of area high school football - the 10-0 Hall of Fame City Champion Wildcats of 1964.

Behind one of the most storied all-around athletes ever to come out of Ohio - senior quarterback/safety Brian Dowling - Saint Ignatius capped its dominant '64 season with a 48-6 victory over Benedictine in the annual Thanksgiving Morning City Championship Charity Game at old Municipal Stadium. A crowd of 41,183 witnessed the Wildcats' dominance, as on the second play from scrimmage Dowling called his own number and rambled 71 yards for a touchdown.

Dowling's athletic careers at Saint Ignatius and Yale were so legendary that he became a regular character, "B.D.," in the Doonesbury Comic Strip.

Coach Nemec, who succeeded Coach Wirtz, also produced four City Championships. In 1972 and 1973, Coach Nemec's Wildcats finished 9-1. Paul put together an overall record at Saint Ignatius of 42-16-2.

Prior to Coach Wirtz and Coach Nemec, Coach Fred George compiled a record of 19-6-3 and won two City Titles while directing Wildcats football from 1948 through 1950.

As impressive as the records of Coach Vince, Coach Wirtz, Coach Nemec and Coach George teams were, Saint Ignatius Football would reach a whole new level of state and national recognition under one of Coach Wirtz's All-City tailbacks - Hall of Fame Coach Mr. Chuck Kyle.

Taking over his alma mater's football program in 1983, Coach Kyle has set a standard that most high school coaches can only dream about.

Saint Ignatius had never qualified for the OHSAA playoffs until 1988, when Coach Kyle began what is one of the greatest runs not only in football-rich Ohio, but the entire nation.

From his 14-0 Division I State Championship Team of 1988 came a string of an Ohio-best 11 big-school state football championships, including a record five row from 1991 through 1995. The 'Cats were state runners-up 1996.

The most successful coach in Cleveland area high school football and the most successful Division I coach in Northeast Ohio with 321 career victories entering the 2016 season, Coach Kyle has also guided the Wildcats to National Championships in 1989, 1993 and 1995, and a National Runner-Up in 2008.

The 'Cats enter 2016 seeking their 27th OHSAA playoff appearance.

In what is one of this seasoned reporter's fondest memories in covering and reporting on Coach Kyle's teams for The Plain Dealer came moments after the dramatic 10-7 victory over Cincinnati Princeton in the Division I 1988 State Championship Game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, which produced Saint Ignatius' first undefeated and untied season since 1964.

In the 'Cats' locker room at Ohio Stadium, Coach Kyle, while celebrating the dramatic goal-line stand that sealed the victory, lifted up his blue-and-gold sweater and pulled out two small gold footballs linked to a chain.

"They're from my grandfather's letter sweater when he played on a state championship team in Alabama in 1918 and from my dad's letter-sweater when he competed on a state-championship team in Indiana in 1937," Coach Kyle said. "I think I called on both of them in the end."