Halfway through the 2019 season, the Saint Ignatius football team has arrived at a turning point. The Wildcats stand at 2-3. Two inopportune plays in the final seconds have dealt the Wildcats two heartbreaking losses. The men of Ohio City need a strong second half to guarantee a playoff spot.
So what is the Wildcats’ legendary head coach, Chuck Kyle ’69, telling his men?
Seize the day. Take advantage of this opportunity.
"We're learning that a little mistake here and there can cost you. We talked this week about opportunity," Kyle said. "We're playing an undefeated team. At this point in the season, computer points start making some sense. This is an opportunity, and we have to take advantage of it. Carpe Diem, seize the day. We need to help ourselves out."
On Saturday, the Wildcats face a 5-0 Rockledge team. With a win, the Wildcats would gain not only primary points, but plenty of much-needed Level 2 points from one of the top Class 5A teams in Florida.
Rockledge is a very talented team. The Raiders are ranked No. 2 in the Florida Class 5A AP poll, and No. 12 overall in the state according to Max Preps. Rockledge has a small roster, with only 40 players listed this week.
The Wildcats have a significant home-field advantage. Rockledge will be flying in on Saturday, landing at Hopkins International Airport around 3 pm. The weather also looks to be fall-like, with the low temperature hovering in the high 50s, a 15-20 degree drop when compared to Florida.
So, as far as the Wildcats are concerned, the playoffs begin on Saturday at 8 pm.
SAINT IGNATIUS OFFENSE VS. ROCKLEDGE DEFENSE
Following a slow slog in the rain in the first half, the Wildcats’ offense roared for 30 points in the second stanza last week. Griffin Hanna orchestrated key drives, spreading the ball to five wideouts.
The senior starter will need to do the same this week. Henry Cook led the way with 7 catches for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Connor Cmiel was plenty involved with 4 catches for 71 yards. Another big contributor to watch out for is Jake Lang after his 6-catch game last Saturday.
Just as critical is the run game. Jack Welcsh pounded the opposing front seven into dust with 24 carries for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns. Welcsh will play a large part in the Wildcats’ efforts to wear down Rockledge. With a small travel roster, a number of Raiders will be playing both ways. The one-two combo of Welcsh and James Crosby will be important to wearing down the defense.
The offensive line will also be key. The men of Adam Rini ’99 and Paul Yappel have been excellent this year, bookended by senior tackles Nick Schwitzgebel and Tony Georges.
Rockledge utilizes a 3-man front on defense. An attacking defense, the Raiders love the blitz. Rockledge will call overload blitzes and zone blitzes, disguising them pre-snap. Rockledge’s defense is hard to diagnose before the play for quarterbacks.
As far as coverages, Rockledge will mix in zone and man, attempting to be unpredictable.
Making it even more difficult are Rockledge’s playmakers. Ladarius Tennison compares to Archbishop Hoban’s Deamonte Trayanum, a playmaking safety who’s dangerous at running back. Virgil Marshall and Terrance Griffin are both ballhawking defensive backs with speed to burn.
On the defensive line, Javon Wade and AJ Hall are names to know. Both have the capability to play both ways.
"They have a number of guys going both ways. It's a long game, so hopefully we can tire them out a little bit," Coach Kyle said. "Hopefully our offense can make them stay on defense for a long time. We need to make them exert a lot of energy. Three-and-outs don't help. We have to have the ball and make them stay on the field. By the time their offense comes out, hopefully they're a little tired."
SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE VS. ROCKLEDGE OFFENSE
The Wildcats struggled to contain Football North’s passing attack last week, so Saint Ignatius will be adjusting its scheme.
Replacing the “Hawk,” a linebacker/safety hybrid player, will be a regular safety. Jack Welcsh will slide into the spot, with others subbing in as necessary.
The Wildcats will hope to have linebacker Michael McNamara and defensive end Anthony Gerace back in the lineup this week. The two seniors are important in the pass rush and were sorely missed last week.
Aidan Crummie will likely see more time at middle linebacker this week, splitting time with Aidan Conway. Aidan Hubbard and Connor Francz will remain as playmaking outside ‘backers.
Rockledge’s offense is, in a word, dangerous.
The Raiders have put up big point totals all season. Ladarius Tennison is the havoc-wreaking running back doing much of the damage. The Auburn commit has scored a touchdown in nearly every game, including a 3 TD effort against Lincoln. At 5’9, 193 pounds, Tennison is a crazy-fast back with elusiveness and power.
Quarterback Elias Allen helms the offense. The junior is in his second year as a starter. Allen is a dual-threat quarterback with a live arm and quick feet. In the last two weeks, Allen has started the scoring with a passing touchdown. Allen also struck paydirt against Atlantic on a 5-yard rushing score. The Wildcats will need to contain Allen.
"He's hit some big pass plays and he's mobile," Coach Kyle said. "He can take off and run. You gotta stay in coverage and box him in so he can't run around and create."
Rockledge has plenty of athletes at the skills spots on offense. Mike Alves Jr. is a great running back who spells Tennison with great success. Virgil Marshall can also carry the ball well. Rian Black is a solid sophomore wideout who caught in a 35-yard TD vs. Viera. Raheim Sanders, a junior wide receiver, found the end zone on a 77-yard screen in the season opener.
Making Rockledge even more dangerous is its ability to run several different offenses.
Primarily, the Raiders will line up in the spread, with four wideouts and one back next to Allen. But Rockledge can also run a power scheme, borrowing from the old Ohio State playbook.
"We have to prepare for a number of different philosophical approaches," said Coach Kyle. "We'll be prepared for spread as well as late 80s, 90s run offense. They have that in the playbook and the athletes to can run it. With guys going both ways, the defensive end can become a fullback. And [Tennison] is a classic I-form tailback."
The Wildcats’ secondary will need to be smart with its coverages and solid against the run to stop this high-flying offense.
Declan Mangan again unleashed his big boot last week, notching field goals of 48 and 47 yards. He’ll again hold most of the kicking duties.
Rockledge also has a talented kicker. Jake Nobles hit a 45-yarder against Viera. His leg may come into play. The Wildcats will also gameplan for Tennison as a return man. He took a kick 98 yards to the house against Ware County.
Last night, the Freshmen Cats experienced their first defeat of the season. The Wildcats dropped a 22-6 decision at Erie Cathedral Prep on Thursday night.
On Saturday, the JV Cats will be heading to Kirtland. The Wildcats currently own an undefeated 4-0 record.