Christmas comes early in 2020.
Instead of waiting well into October for the annual clash of West Side titans, the rivalry comes in Week 4 of the 2020 season, on September 19.
Saint Ignatius and St. Edward enter the game on different planes. The Wildcats are just one game into the season, still working on the kinks and getting into a groove. The Eagles have three games under their belt, having played three powerhouse foes in Massillon Washington, Archbishop Hoban, and Mentor.
"We’ve played one game and they’ve played three. That’s somewhat of a concern," says Head Coach Chuck Kyle '69. "I’m glad we played a game before this game. I’m pleased with the first game and that we didn’t have too many mental mistakes. The kids did a good job of preparing. What I think is most affected is the technique development, that’s why you practice. Your technique is better in Week 10 than Week 1. So that’s still in progress. This week, we’re playing a good, playoff-caliber football game which is good for us.”
The Wildcats and Eagles often met in September in the early days of the rivalry, with the last occurence coming in 1978. But whenever these two teams meet on the gridiron, excitement is sure to follow. Five of the last seven have been decided by one possession, including the last two St. Edward wins.
All-time, the Wildcats hold the 32-26-1 advantage, and Coach Chuck Kyle ‘69 enjoys a 26-14-1 margin. He’s never lost three straight to the Eagles.
A few more fun facts for you:
• The last time two non-senior quarterbacks started for Saint Ignatius and St. Edward was 2007, when then-sophomore Mark Myers led the Wildcats to a 19-14 win over the Eagles.
• The last time two juniors started for Saint Ignatius and St. Edward was 1992, when Scott Mutryn's Cats rolled to a 28-0 win over Bob Adams' Eagles.
• Saint Ignatius junior starting quarterbacks have a 7-3 record vs. the Eagles.
SAINT IGNATIUS OFFENSE VS. ST. ED’S DEFENSE
Game #1 marked the start of a new-look offense under quarterback Jaxon French. The junior quarterback made his first varsity start for the Wildcats and played quite well. French looked efficient in completing 12-of-14 passes for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns. French also showed a bit of what he can do with his feet, extending plays with success, including a touchdown pass to Alec LaSpina.
To conquer the St. Edward defense, the Wildcats will need French to utilize his quick decision-making skills to get the ball out to the right read with accuracy and speed.
The Wildcats also experienced good gains on the ground in the season opener, compiling 165 yards. Mike Simcak showed resiliency in notching 81 yards on 14 carries, along with 2 touchdowns. Marty Lenehan tabbed 52 yards and Ryan Waldron earned 26 yards, each showcasing good agility and strength.
The offensive line will be the key. Anchored by veterans Gus Salopek and Ashton Montgomery, the Wildcats will need to pick up tricky St. Edward blitzes in order to succeed.
As for the Eagles, C.J. Hankins is the leader on defense. The tough linebacker is a key member of the Eagles’ senior class, a crucial leader on defense. A smart player, Hankins has a nose for the ball.
In the secondary, Jaylen and Joel Castleberry are playmaking speedsters. The dynamic duo helped to stop Mentor’s offense late last week.
"They’re giving you different looks on defense. They have blitz packages and they’re bringing more than usual," says Coach Kyle. "You always have to prepare for the blitz, but they’ve blitzed more often. This early in the season, working on technique, that’s a concern because a veteran team is used to picking up blitzes. Early in the year, there can be some mistakes made. We’ve been working all week on that."
As a whole, the Eagles have allowed some points this season to strong offenses, but are not to be overlooked, to be certain.
SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE VS. ST. ED’S OFFENSE
The Wildcats entered the 2020 season with plenty of strength and experience in the front six. That front six will have its toughest challenge yet on Saturday.
The Eagles pack a punch in the ground game, using the run as a cudgel to batter and wear down opponents over the course of the game.
Bennett Adler will be a crucial cog in the Saint Ignatius machine up front to stop the run. The senior defensive end showed off his talent last week with 3.5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. An athletic and strong defender, Adler is the type of player that defensive coordinators love to coach.
Joining him up front are Luca LaSpina at end, and Tommy Wasinski and Peter Chalhoub inside. LaSpina used his tall frame to cause havoc against Bishop Sycamore, while Wasinski and Chalhoub gritted out strong efforts against bigger linemen.
The linebackers may be the strength of the team. Aidan Hubbard, a Northwestern commit, is an agile and strong outside ‘backer who tied for the team lead with 3.5 tackles last week. Aidan Conway is a tough-as-nails middle linebacker who will be huge to plug up the gaps in the middle. Nick Velotta is a sure tackler with speed on the outside.
In the secondary, Emmett Hanna is the quarterback of the unit at free safety. Griffin Taliak and Braeden Lair join him as talented safeties. Cole Smith and Chris Snyder each shook off early jitters last week and are capable defenders on the edges.
The Eagles have utilized a ground-and-pound approach all season, running on 79.5% of their plays. The Eagles have used the run to earn two wins, including a come-from-behind victory last week.
Christian Ramos leads the way as a dual-threat QB, though it’s almost a 2-back system, as the junior is a tough runner. Ramos has 206 yards and 3 TD’s on the ground this year.
Malachi Watkins and Daniel Enovitch are the 1-2 punch at running back, with 188 and 145 rushing yards, respectively.
"Offensively, they have a couple good, skilled running backs. The quarterback has been running well too," says Coach Kyle. "When they're spread out, it’s technically one back-formation, but it’s really a two-back set with the QB. That’s where they've been effective. You have to honor the run, which helps their passing game. They’re not throwing quite as many times, but it can be effective when they do because you have to honor the run."
The St. Edward offensive line makes it all possible. Thomas Aden and Chris Moran are the difference makers. The Wildcats will need to win the battle in the trenches here to win on Saturday.
Declan Mangan didn’t need a warmup game, converting a 51-yard field goal last week. He’ll be a weapon for the Wildcats this week.
Noah Rios and Justin Slattery split the kicking duties: Rios handles kickoffs and field goals, Slattery does the punting. Both are quite good, as is the Eagles’ return game.
Another thing to watch this week will be to see how the kickers handle the smaller goalposts of FirstEnergy Stadium.
“Their special teams are good, ours are good. That’s an interesting aspect of this game," says Coach Kyle. "They have solid kickers. Their return game is good, as they’ve gotten some good field position on kickoff returns. They have a tendency to try to block the punt, you can tell they work hard at it. We need to be very mentally aware of what could happen. You gotta communicate. Our kids need to realize that special teams are an important part of what we do. Our return game is good and we have a kicker who can make 50+ yarders. We’d love to get some big plays out of the special teams. That would help tremendously."
WATCH ON THE SIBN
The SIBN will stream the game, with a 7 pm kick. Owen Gerba '21, Bobby Gerome '21, and Danny Gibel '22 will be on the call.
Saint Ignatius normally relies on ticket revenue to help offset our Athletic Department budget. In lieu of purchasing a ticket to Saturday's game, we hope you and your family will consider a tax-deductible donation to the Fr. Sullivan Fund for Athletics. Visit ignatius.edu/give and choose Fr. Sullivan Fund for Athletics on the drop down list to make your gift.