At the end of a long game on a drizzly Saturday in Byers Field, Saint Ignatius Head Coach Chuck Kyle '69 paused for about 20 seconds before summing up the outcome.
"Well, I think we're stunned."
Indeed, Football North shocked the Wildcats.
On the last play of the game, the top high school program in Canada, hailing from Clarkson Secondary School in Mississauga (a suburb of Toronto), completed an incredible 49-yard Hail Mary pass to win a back-and-forth affair, 41-40. An extra point with the clock at 0:00 sealed the Wildcats' fate, dropping the men of Ohio City to 2-3 and sending the men of the North into a frenzied celebration.
"They were moving the ball all night, we were moving the ball. Somebody was going to make a play to win. Without less than 30 seconds to go, I thought we'd be fine," Coach Kyle said. "We score, and they put a long one up, and their tall guy beat our guys. He got up higher than we did. We had missed the extra point, so we lose."
As Coach Kyle said, with the score at 34-34 with 6:35 left in the game, the Wildcats opted for a clock-burning approach. Griffin Hanna handed the ball off to Jack Welcsh on nine plays in a 13-play, 80-yard drive. Thanks to great blocking, Welcsh found paydirt to the left on a 17-yard run with 27 seconds left.
As it turned out, that was enough time for Football North to march 29 yards down the field to set up an incredible Hail Mary play from Quincy Vaughn to Nathan Demontagnac and an unforgettable upset for the visitors. Yes, the 2019 edition of Football North is not your average team from Canada.
"Jack plays defense and offense. When you're getting the running game going and mixing it in, [it helps]. We were trying to bring the clock down as best we could. They still had 27 seconds to go," Kyle said. "Amazing. Give them credit, they had to launch one and the wide receiver leaped up and caught it."
The game did not begin as a dramatic offensive showdown. The Wildcats and Football North struggled to find their footing in the early goings, as rain haunted downtown Parma.
The game started out on a positive note for the Wildcats, as Connor Cmiel intercepted Football North on the first drive of the contest. Starting at its own 41-yard line, the Saint Ignatius offense made it to the Clarkson 31-yard line before stalling out. Declan Mangan trotted in for a 48-yard field goal, and made it with ease for a 3-0 lead.
The score remained 3-0 into the second quarter, as a time-consuming Football North drive stalled late in the first. After the Wildcats' opening drive of the period also stopped, Charlie Kinzel picked off a Vaughn pass in single coverage. Unfortunately, the turnover went for naught.
On the seventh play of the Saint Ignatius drive, a Wildcats' pass was intercepted by Gianni Stewart. The defensive back ran it back 53 yards, setting up a Vaughn touchdown pass with 6:34 left in the half.
The Wildcats could not immediately respond, as a fourth-down pass fell incomplete at the Football North 40-yard line. The Wildcats' defense then came up with a stop, setting the offense up at the Saint Ignatius 44-yard line.
Thanks to some nice passes from Griffin Hanna, the Wildcats moved down the field. Hanna finished off the nice drive with a 4-yard touchdown run, and Rory McConville kicked the extra point for a 10-7 lead with 1:24 left.
Vaughn and Football North did not want to go into the break with a deficit, however. Utilizing a two-minute drill offense, Vaughn navigated his team down the field and finished off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds remaining. The visitors headed into halftime with a 14-10 lead.
The sun peeked out of the clouds at halftime, as did the offenses. The second half turned out to be a slugfest.
On the very first play of the half, Hanna fired a bullet to Connor Cmiel for a 33-yard completion. And just two plays later, Hanna found a streaking Henry Cook for a marvelous 40-yard TD. The Wildcats suddenly had the lead again, 17-14.
The Saint Ignatius defense followed that up with a big play of its own. Connor Francz forced a fumble, and Aidan Conway recovered it at the Wildcats' 48-yard line. Seven plays later, Declan Mangan put points on the board again with a true 47-yarder, advancing the lead to 20-14.
At this point, with momentum on the Wildcats' side, Football North could have started to crumble. But Larry Jusdanis' men only became more resilient.
On a crucial drive, Vaughn marched the visitors down the field in five quick plays. Omarion Martin capped it off with a 15-yard touchdown on a well-executed option play. Erik Daugenti blocked an extra point, keeping it tied at 20-20.
Football North forced a quick 3-and-out on the Wildcats' next drive, and took advantage of the opportunity to re-take the lead. Vaughn darted a 56-yard pass downfield to set up the visitors in striking distance, and finished the job with yet another TD strike, this time to Brayden Misseri with 2:47 left in the third.
Hanna fired back at Football North with a 5-play, 70-yard drive. Hanna found Jake Lang for a 34-yard strike down the right side of the field to put his men in position. Cook caught a slant pass from Hanna and stretched the ball into the end zone on a nice 20-yard pass. McConville's leg tied the score at 27-all with 1:07 left in the third.
Football North's ensuing drive stretched into the fourth quarter, but ultimately ended unsuccessfully. The two teams traded 3-and-outs before Henry Cook once again came up with a big play. Left space to work with on a punt, the senior dodged and ducked past a few Football North defenders to weave his way to the Clarkson 26 on a 43-yard return.
The Wildcats did not let the wonderful field position go to waste. A Hanna completion to Jack Dunstan, a Jack Welcsh run, and a Football North penalty set the stage for second and goal opportunity from the 3-yard line. Welcsh pounded it in from in close, and gave the Wildcats a 34-27 lead.
The advantage did not last long. Following a 46-yard kickoff return, Vaughn needed just four plays to pick up 50 yards and six points. The Old Dominion commit completed the drive with an 8-yard strike to Demontagnac. The score stood tied at 34-34.
When the Wildcats needed him most, Welcsh was there. The senior barreled ahead nine times on a 13-play drive for bruising gains. His bowling-ball style with finesse mixed in paid off on a 17-yard TD run with 27 seconds left. But with a missed extra point and a Hail Mary pass to the outstretched arms of a 6'4" Nathan Demontagnac, the Wildcats walked away empty-handed.
Welcsh finished with 101 yards on 24 carries and 2 touchdowns. Cook deserves plenty of kudos with 7 catches for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns, leading all players with 181 all-purpose yards.
Griffin Hanna enjoyed a nice day at quarterback, completing 20-of-37 passes for 300 yards, 2 passing touchdowns, and 1 rushing touchdown. His clutch passing late did not go unnoticed.
Unfortunately, the defense could not stop Football North late. Vaughn and the offense had plenty of talent to go around with several Division I commits, and the Wildcats did not have an answer in the fourth quarter. Missing three key contributors – linemen Anthony Gerace and Sam Daugstrup and linebacker Michael McNamara – certainly hurt, but football is not a game of excuses.
"We'll be working on coverages and getting some pass rush. Did we miss Gerace and McNamara? Yeah, we did," Coach Kyle said. "But that's what happens. We had our chance to win. We're obviously giving up too many points. When you score 40-something points, you think you're going to win. It hurts because they only had three seconds."
Following this stinging loss, the Wildcats will regroup. Byers Field will be the venue for next week's game, as the Wildcats host Rockledge, an undefeated Class 5A program from Florida.