One down, two to go.
As Head Coach Chuck Kyle '69 told his team this week, the playoffs, at least for the Wildcats, start with Archbishop Moeller. Each of the last three games on the schedule are must-win games in order to clinch a berth to the postseason.
The Wildcats began the crucial 3-game stretch with a victory, rolling past the Crusaders at Viking Stadium in Cincinnati, 38-7.
Playing at the home of the Princeton Vikings, the 1988 State Runners-up to the Wildcats, against the 1989 State Runners-up in Moeller, the Wildcats showed ferocity out of the starting gate. The Cats showed no signs of weariness from the travel, clawing their way to No. 9 in the Joe Eitel computer rankings with a win, just 0.3097 behind No. 8 Cleveland Heights.
From the opening drive, the Saint Ignatius defense played smashmouth, hard-nosed football. Moeller punted quickly in its opening drive. After Saint Ignatius also stalled on his fist possession, the men of Ryan Franzinger '02 again showed no mercy on Moeller's second time with the ball.
The Wildcats' offense came alive on its second drive. On a 3rd and long, Griffin Hanna rolled out of the pocket. Looking for options on the nearside, Hanna saw Henry Cook come open. Hanna lofted a perfect pass over the arms of the defensive back and into Henry Cook's hands. The senior wideout did the rest, galloping untouched for the opening score, 65 yards in all. Rory McConville nailed the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
All season, the Crusaders have struggled with turnovers. The team's turnover woes led to another Saint Ignatius strike. Aidan Crummie picked off a Moeller pass on third down, setting the Wildcats up at the Crusaders' 40-yard line. Three plays later on 3rd and 15, Hanna again looked to pass. This time, the senior saw Jake Lang come open. Hanna tossed the ball short across the middle to his big tight end, and the baseball and football star took it from there. Lang dodged tacklers en route to a 45-yard score and a 14-0 lead for the Wildcats.
The Saint Ignatius quickstrike offense pulled out another trick after a quick Moeller three-and-out. On the first play of the drive, Cook came open again. The star athlete caught Moeller in a zone coverage with a slant across the middle. Once Hanna got him the ball, Cook jetted through the defense and all the way to the end zone for a 56-yard score.
In the blink of an eye, the Wildcats held a 21-0 lead.
"I just tried to get open, and Griffin was able to find me. It gave us a kickstart early," Cook said. "It was good to get it started early. We lost last week, but we're trying to move on from that. We need to build from here, because we need to go undefeated the rest of the season. We need to keep playing good football."
The advantage stayed at 21 points until the Crusaders scored their lone points of the day early in the second quarter.
On a nice run, Bryan White found a seam in the Saint Ignatius defense. The Moeller speedster raced the rest of the way to paydirt on a 55-yard scamper.
With the lead dwindled to 14 points, the Wildcats' quickstrike offense took a more methodical approach. Pounding Moeller with the run, the Cats used 5:13 to march 64 yards in 13 plays. Unfortunately, the drive went for naught, as Moeller blocked a 33-yard field goal attempt.
Enter Aidan Crummie. On Moeller's first play, the Crusaders fumbled a handoff. Crummie leaped at the opportunity, launching himself to recover the fumble in the backfield. His second turnover of the day placed the Wildcats in great field position.
A holding call and a sack set the Cats back, so Saint Ignatius trotted out the field goal team. This time, the field goal reached higher than Moeller's defenders, but just missed the goal posts wide right from 45 yards.
Even so, the Wildcats were not rattled. The defense forced a quick three-and-out, giving the ball back to Hanna and Co. Near midfield with 2:20 left, the Wildcats used a methodical approach in moving downfield while draining clock. Two Hanna passes and four Jack Welcsh runs set the Wildcats up at the Moeller 2-yard line. After a timeout, Hanna plowed into the end zone for six, with Rory McConville finishing things off with a PAT.
Entering the break, the Wildcats held a commanding 28-7 lead.
The teams traded punts to start the third quarter before the Wildcats killed any hopes of a home team comeback.
On a 9-play, 60-yard drive that heavily featured Jack Welcsh, the Saint Ignatius offensive line pounded Moeller's front seven into dust. In a drive that certainly made Paul Yappel and Adam Rini '99 happy, the offensive line worked as a hammer, opening lanes for Welcsh and taking a pound of flesh while doing so.
Welcsh carried the ball on 7 of the 9 plays, including the decisive 4-yard rushing score. McConville converted his fifth extra point of the day, and the Wildcats were in full control, 35-7.
The running clock began midway through the fourth quarter. A couple of Hanna passes and a dose of James Crosby pushed the Wildcats ahead. The drive stopped at the Moeller 4-yard line, but McConville converted from 27 yards for the final points of the day.
The Wildcats' backups then entered, sealing the win on a beautiful Cincinnati day.
The Crusaders are having a difficult year at 1-7, one of the program's worst in recent memory. But Saint Ignatius Head Coach Chuck Kyle '69 talked with first-year coach Todd Naumann after the game and had good words to say about Moeller's future.
"They're a good program, they'll be back," Kyle said. "Last year, they won the GCL. They've got some young kids coming up who will be good."
Looking at the stats, the Wildcats dominated in all aspects. Hanna tallied 296 passing yards vs. just 27 for Moeller. Led by Welcsh's 17-carry, 75-yard day, the Wildcats outgained the Crusaders on the ground, 109-70. Take away White's 55-yard TD, and Moeller gained just 42 yards on 38 plays.
Kudos goes to the Saint Ignatius passcatchers in Connor Cmiel's absence. Lang hauled in 7 passes for 110 yards, while Cook caught 4 passes for 153 yards.
"Connor tried it out a little before the game, and it wasn't quite right. Let's just play it safe. It's a lot better, but why risk it if he's not 100%. That's not fair to him and not the right thing to do. We did fine," Kyle said. "Jake Lang, Henry Cook, and our other guys did well."
The Wildcats' defense played just as well, limiting Moeller to 97 yards on 39 plays. Connor Francz topped the team with 4.5 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 tackle for loss. Reigning Magis Athlete of the Week Max Watters did well again, with 3 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for loss. Crummie also deserves praise for his interception and fumble recovery. As a unit, the defensive line killed it, too.
"The defensive line did a really nice job as a unit. They're a good running team, and they popped one, but other than that, they couldn't find anything in the middle. That's a credit to the defensive line. The secondary reacted nicely to their stretch plays, and they have some speed to get there. We kept our leverage very nicely and limited them."
Now, the attention turns to Week 9 vs. St. Xavier.
The Wildcats need a win over the 6-2 Bombers to have a chance at a playoff spot. Drew Pasteur at Fantastic 50 gives the Wildcats a 76% chance of making the playoffs if Saint Ignatius wins. But Coach Kyle and his men aren't looking at the odds, they'll be sticking to the film and how to beat the Bombers.
"As a team, we're working on being more disciplined. We're still in the playoff hunt with a big game against St. Xavier," Kyle said. "We are now in the playoffs, and we have to play at that level. There were some good signs today that we're reaching for that level."