In the second week of the 2020 season, the Saint Ignatius Wildcats hosted Saint Edward at FirstEnergy Stadium. Besides being the 60th rivalry meeting between the two teams, it was also senior night for the Saint Ignatius football players, managers, band, cheering squad, and the SIBN.
A night that started happily for the seniors took a bad turn, as the final score was 17-0 Saint Edward. It was a game that could have been completely different had the Wildcats kept the turnovers to a minimum.
"This is going into our third really solid week of practice coming up, we need to look at technique. You can't turn the ball over like that," says Head Coach Chuck Kyle. "Maybe we see them again in the playoffs. We need to be a better team in three weeks. We can learn from this."
To begin the game, St. Edward won the coin toss and deferred the ball off to the Cats. Jaxon French and the offense took the field and came out a bit slow on their first drive as it was a 3 and out. The punt was boomed down the field and muffed by the Eagles’ return man, but ultimately was recovered by St. Edward to begin their first drive of the game. The defensive line looked sharp, as they got pressure to the St. Edward quarterback Christian Ramos on multiple plays. The Cats also forced a 3 and out, highlighted by some key tackles by seniors Luca LaSpina, Aidan Conway, and Nick Velotta. On the ensuing punt, the Wildcats enjoyed a big return, as junior Marty Lenehan received the ball at the 48-yard line and strode all the way down to the 12-yard line.
The Wildcats opened up the second drive with the offense with a pair of runs. Unfortunately, the second resulted in the first of four fumbles for the Wildcat offense. St. Edward recovered and began the drive in their own backfield. After a big run from the Eagles’ running back Malachi Watkins gaining them 16 yards, the passing game looked shaky, as the Wildcat secondary proved sturdy. The first quarter came to a close with a sack by Aidan Conway, leaving a pair of goose eggs on the scoreboard, 0-0 after 1.
The second quarter began with Jaxon French passing to his main target in senior wide receiver Alec LaSpina for a first down. Yet, just as the ball began to get rolling for the Wildcat offense, Saint Ignatius fumbled the ball and again St. Edward was able to recover.
The Eagle offense came back on the field and created a drive primarily around quarterback keeps and dishes off to the running back core. However, as this drive came closer and closer to the endzone for the Eagles, Ramos finally threw a pass, and wide open (and waiting) was Watkins for a 12-yard touchdown pass. The score placed the Eagles up 7-0 with 9:14 to go in the second quarter.
To answer, French threw a dot to Alec LaSpina for a 31-yard gain. On the next play of the drive, French completed another pass to senior wide receiver Jack Dunstan. The passing game looked strong so far, but on 3rd and inches, the Wildcats again fumbled the rock, and the Eagles were able to recover the loose ball.
The defense marched onto the field looking for a big hold or a lucky break, and indeed they got just that. After a facemask call on the defense, boosting the Eagles up 15 yards, a bad snap came to Ramos and Hubbard broke through to pick up the pigskin. Now with French coming back onto the field from a short break, he found LaSpina on the next play. But then the ball came loose on the Wildcats’ fourth fumble of the half, and the Eagles dove all over that one, too.
However, the Eagles did not capitalize on this turnover, as Ramos threw a pair of incomplete passes and Watkins ran for no gain. The Wildcats received the punt with little time left in the half.
"The defense did a very good job against a very good football team. They had a couple of drives and the defense was out there a while," says Coach Kyle. "The linebacking core did a really nice job. The linebackers were feeling the holes well. They were willing to run, run, run, and once in a while, you find a seam, but the linebackers did a very nice job."
On 3rd and 3 on the last drive of the half, French found LaSpina on a dump off getting a the first down. French then delivered a strike to Dunstan, good for another Wildcat first down. St. Edward was then charged with a pass interference call, moving the Cats to the Eagles’ 6-yard line. The drive stalled from there, so special teams trotted out and try for a field goal to end the half. A rare miss by senior kicker Declan Mangan, caused by the more narrow pro uprights, ended the first half with a score of 7-0 Eagles.
"We had some momentum going, then we'd turn the ball over," says Coach Kyle. "7-0 at halftime with four turnovers? That's unheard of. We can move the ball, we just need to get into the end zone. We can't turn it over."
The Eagles got the ball to start the second half, but went 3 and out with a stellar job by the defensive line applying great pass rush defense and getting in the face of Ramos. But the Cats also went 3 and out after some incomplete bombs downfield from Jaxon French. The next drive by the Eagles did not follow the pattern however, as Ramos fired a pass good for 32 yards to Joshua Kerekes. Ramos then ran for his 14th and 15th quarterback runs of the game, moving the Eagles in field goal range. The kick was booted right through the uprights changing the score again in the Eagles favor, now 10-0 St. Edward.
"They started getting field position in the second half. You knew something was going to happen," says Coach Kyle. "We'd get some yardage but couldn't get a break or a big play to break away. We're going to learn from that."
After an unfortunate drive with a few short runs and some incomplete passes, French was sacked and Mangan came out for another punt. Ramos just continued to either execute a quarterback keep or a handoff to one of his running backs. This time he handed off to Daniel Enovitch as the clock wound down with 1:02 to go in the third quarter. Aidan Conway made his 7th tackle of night, but it was followed by a holding call on the Wildcats. The third quarter ended with a score of 10-0 Eagles.
To open the 4th quarter Ramos, charged ahead full steam ahead for another quarterback keep, this time for a big 34-yard touchdown. Once again the Eagles managed to tip the scoreboard in their favor as they now possessed a 17-0 lead.
French began the ensuing drive well, throwing to LaSpina again, this time for 9 yards. Lenehan picked up the first down, moving the chains for the Cats on a nice run. French then found Dunstan for an 8-yard gain, followed up by a 4-yard pass for a first down. However, this drive would come to a close as the Wildcats tossed an interception to C.J. Hankins.
The game rapidly came to a close from here. Ramos ran quarterback keepers a couple more times before throwing a pick to senior safety Emmett Hanna. With the Wildcats being given one last drive to avoid a shutout, things looked good to start, as French completed two passes, one to senior tight end Nick Lamirand and a bomb to Dunstan for a 32-yard gain. French would find Lamirand again for a 15-yard reception, but ultimately on a big 4th down, the Cats would turnover on down to the Eagles. The Eagles run the ball one last time to Enovitch before Ramos kneeled twice to burn out the clock.
With the win, the Wildcats' series advantage dropped to 32-27-1. The Wildcats had not been shutout by St. Edward dating back to a 12-0 loss in 1985.
The Eagles narrowly outgained the Wildcats on the day, 249-243. Jaxon French completed 17-of-31 passes for 196 yards, while the Wildcats were limited to 48 rushing yards.
The Wildcats will look to rebound on Friday at Massillon Washington.
"We need to play a quality opponent again and correct those mistakes to keep our momentum going," says Chuck Kyle. "We had something going in the first half, but we just turned the ball over."
In the meantime, Saint Ignatius would like to thank the Cleveland Browns for making it all possible. A special thanks goes to Dave Jenkins, Jenner Teckancic, Omar Jufko, Darrell Taylor, Rich Hanchette, Jeff Patton, Steven Kupchik, and all of the Browns' personnel for their great work.
"Our kids enjoyed it. The Browns are really strong supporters of youth football and youth programs," says Coach Kyle. "This is just another example of how engaged they are with high school football. Thanks to them for hosting us."