Even after a win over a 4-time defending state champion, the road does not become any easier for the men of Ohio City.
Instead, one could make the case, the journey becomes even more difficult. The Saint Ignatius football program will pack up on Friday and drive six hours on a bus destined for Landover, Maryland to face one of the top programs in the country, the DeMatha Catholic Stags, at Marwin F. Wilson Stadium at Prince George's Athletic Complex at 2 pm on Saturday.
DeMatha has earned high billing in several national polls, including USA TODAY’s Super 25. Competing in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference with other powerhouse programs based in the DMV area (DC/Maryland/Virginia), DeMatha has compiled its fair share of titles.
Coaching legend Bill McGregor returned to the helm in January. Compiling a 278-40-3 record at DeMatha from 1982-2010, McGregor spent 2011-18 as an assistant coach at two other Maryland schools before returning home.
As it turns out, McGregor was a classmate and teammate of Chuck Kyle ‘69 and Nick Restifo Hon. ‘19 at John Carroll University. The JCU connection led to the scheduling of a home-and-home between Saint Ignatius and DeMatha.
The Wildcats have another connection in Washington, DC – Anthony Gonzalez '03. The Saint Ignatius Athletic Hall of Famer and current U.S. congressman will be hosting the football team for a tour of the U.S. Capitol on Friday afternoon.
Staying fresh after the long bus ride will be critical for the Wildcats. Fortunately, the school will not be in session on Friday, thanks to a free day for the Saint Ignatius baseball and rugby championships last spring. The Wildcats will leave early to get in DC before the afternoon rush, in time to visit Gonzalez.
Getting a good night's rest on Friday evening will be critical. DeMatha is loaded with talent. The 2-1 Stags have a much shorter drive and will be well-rested on an 8-day week.
"They have a lot of Division I players. They have a very good talent level. When you face a team like that, you have to believe in your technique," Coach Kyle said. "Based on last week, one thing we need to work on is one-on-tackling. A lot of times, it's one-on-one, and we need to complete the tackle. The Hoban running back was a bruiser and hard to tackle, but you need to tackle him, or he's going to get another 8-9 yards. We need to keep working on that."
SAINT IGNATIUS OFFENSE VS. DEMATHA DEFENSE
With Griffin Hanna calling the plays in the second half last week, the Saint Ignatius offense exploded. The Wildcats utilized a hurry-up approach to overcome a 25-point deficit, and the strategy worked to perfection.
Depending on the gameflow, the Wildcats may choose to use the tactic again. Either way, Week 3 showcased the wide range of weapons the Wildcats have on the offensive side of the ball.
Connor Cmiel leads the wideouts as a speedster with great hands. Henry Cook, Jack Dunstan, and Alec LaSpina have all contributed and will be looked towards on Saturday. Tight ends Jake Lang and Sam Daugstrup have also proved reliable.
As for the rushing game, Jack Welcsh and James Crosby each have speed and elusiveness. Welcsh has established himself as a ground-and-pound runner who will attack you on every play. Crosby has been a great runner who's dangerous on screens and passes to the flat.
The game may be won in the trenches, though. The Saint Ignatius offensive line has played well this year, and will need another stellar effort on Saturday. Penn State commit Coziah Izzard leads a strong and quick DeMatha D-line that will line up four men on the line of scrimmage. Greg Penn III is a dynamic inside linebacker who will also play a key role.
DeMatha often employs man coverage, using its quick corners to shut down wideouts. The Stags may mix in the occasional zone coverage, too, with creative blitz packages. Safety Saieed Myers, who played well in the season opener against St. John Bosco, will play a critical role in limiting the Wildcats over the top and helping out sometimes in stopping the run.
"We've worked all week on patterns and things to use against man coverage," said Coach Kyle.
SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE VS. DEMATHA OFFENSE
Early on in the season, the Wildcats faced injury woes on defense. Now, the Wildcats (knock on wood) are nearly back to full strength.
Linebacker Michael McNamara returned to action against Hoban and made a titanic difference. The captain tallied 8 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. Nose tackle Max Watters also figures to return this week after missing two games.
Sam Daugstrup joined the defensive line unit and played quite well last week. The senior turned in an excellent effort playing both ways, tracking down tacklers on defense and paving running lanes on offense. He’ll be key again on Saturday.
Other Wildcats to watch include linebacker Aidan Hubbard and free safety Merick Hartley. Both have been important playmakers this season.
As a whole, the Wildcats will need to tackle in one-on-one situations on Saturday. DeMatha has no lack of playmakers.
Chief among them is running back MarShawn Lloyd. The 5’9, 206-pound running back is a ferocious runner with excellent vision. Heavily recruited, Lloyd chose South Carolina in the offseason. The Wildcats have faced some great backs this year, but Lloyd might be the best runner the Cats see all season.
Quarterback Malakai Anthony is no less talented. The 6’2, 208-pound signalcaller is a dual-threat weapon, with fast feet and a lively arm. A pass-first, pro-style QB, Anthony can sling it downfield but is also evasive in the pocket. The Wildcats will look to dial up creative blitzes and coverages to confuse the southpaw. The Cats will likely need to keep a safety over the top to stop the big play.
Boston College commit Dwayne Allick is one of the strong offensive linemen tasked with protecting Anthony. A returning starter at tackle, Allick leads a big O-line that has kept Anthony safe so far this season.
"They're a very skill-oriented team with good size on the line. And their offensive line is a good size, they have a number of 300-pound guys. We're playing some pretty good running backs this year. [Lloyd] isn't as big as [Deamonte Trayanum], but he's fast," Kyle said. "If he finds a crack, he's gone. [Anthony] can move around very well at quarterback. He's active in the pocket and can take off running, but he looks to throw first. We have to realize that in your coverage, you can take away the initial read, but you have to stay with it. He'll create more time. We need to prevent the big play, because they have that ability."
Coach Kyle said at the start of the year that he would use special teams as a weapon, and has he ever. Kyle unleashed kicker Declan Mangan for field goals of 53 and 56 yards against Hoban. Mangan also fired six-of-eight kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Look for more of the same this week, with help from Rory McConville.
The Stags’ kicking game is nearly as impressive. DeMatha is not afraid to launch long field goals, and often puts kickoffs in the end zone, too.
Freshmen Cats hit the road
The freshmen football squad will head down to Akron on Thursday to face Walsh Jesuit in a 5 pm tilt.
Through two games, the Wildcats have a 2-0 record.
JV Cats schedule game for Monday
With a Week 3 slot to fill, the Wildcats will host an old friend on Monday – Elvis Grbac.
The legendary quarterback and now head football coach/athletic director at Villa Angela-St. Joseph will send his JV boys to Wasmer Field for some Monday night football. The Wildcats and Vikings will do battle at 5 pm.
The Saint Ignatius Broadcast Network will be taking the show on the road this weekend.
Jack O'Rourke '20, Nick Fletcher '20, and Max Marazzi '20 will be on the call from Landover, Maryland. The game will be broadcast in video.
If for some reason technical difficulties impair the broadcast, Monumental Sports Network will also have a live stream.