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Late Swing of Momentum Leads to Road Loss for Football Cats

By Jack Slemenda '21, 09/26/20, 12:45PM EDT


Emmett Hanna played a heck of a game for the Wildcats, running back an INT for a TD.

On Friday night, the Wildcats made the trek out to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium to take on the Massillon Washington Tigers. Ultimately, the game was a close one. The Wildcats held a 14-6 lead, but mistakes late led to a loss to the Tigers, 21-14. 

The Wildcats drop to 1-2 on the year with the narrow loss.

“We played St. Ed’s last week and Massillon this week. You’d expect to see them in the Regional Finals. Here we are, finding ourselves a bit,” said Head Coach Chuck Kyle ‘69. “I’m hoping games like this will help us. We’re right there. There are plays to be made. That’s where I’m disappointed. There are plays to be made, and opportunities to be made. In ballgames like this, for gosh sakes, you can’t blow opportunities. We gotta learn from this.” 

To open the game, the Wildcats received the kick, as the Tigers elected to defer the ball after they won the coin toss. French came out for the Cats, and the first drive was a quick one, as Saint Ignatius only managed to put up 7 yards of offense for a 3 and out drive. Massillon quarterback Zach Catrone led his offense onto the field, facing a stout Saint Ignatius defense. Griffin Taliak and Chris Snyder looked solid overall on the coverage of Ohio State wide receiver commit Jayden Ballard and West Virginia wide receiver commit Andrew Wilson-Lamp, however, Catrone did get an early deep ball past the Wildcats. The senior signalcaller launched a pass to the Wildcats’ 5-yard line on a pretty play. But the Wildcats stood strong from there, as Aidan Conway batted down a Catrone pass on 3rd down to force the Tigers to a field goal with 5:24 to go in the first quarter.

The second drive was similar to the first for the Cats. A Jaxon French scramble and a few incomplete passes forced the visitors to punt again after a 3 and out. The Wildcats’ defense continued to look strong, as the pass rush was solid on the first two plays of the Massillon drive. The pocket closed quickly, forcing Catrone to get rid of it, so both passes fell incomplete. On third down, the Cats got to Catrone, sacking him for a loss of 15 and causing a Tigers punt. 

To open the next drive, Marty Lenehan got to work. The junior opened with a big run to move the chains. But Tigers quickly halted that momentum boost. On a pass intended for Alec LaSpina in traffic, the Tigers intercepted the pass to set up great field position at the end of the first quarter.    

But the Wildcats’ defense would not break. To open the second stanza, Emmett Hanna notched a clutch tackle for loss of Massillon running back Raekwon Venson, leading to a lengthy third down for Massillon. Catrone fired and missed his man on the next play, forcing the kicking team to come back out and boot a field goal. The Tigers enjoyed a 6-0 lead with 11:14 left in the second. 

The Wildcats changed out some lead guys on offense to open their next drive. Joe Pfaff entered at quarterback and Ryan Waldron checked in at running back. Pfaff made some completions and Waldron managed good yardage, but the Wildcats ended up punting. On the punt, Mangan boomed a big kick, and it looked like the ball bounced off one of the black and orange helmets, but the officials called it the other way, saying it hit off a Wildcat helmet. Not a single Wildcat was in the area until contact was made and the ball was picked up by Saint Ignatius, but the Tigers’ offense took the field. 

Following the tough call, Venson appeared to fumble, but was called down. It didn’t matter, as the Wildcats’ defense stayed strong to force a punt. Pfaff returned at quarterback for his second varsity drive. 

Pfaff’s drive was solid all around, as he looked comfortable in the pocket and made some quality passes to his targets. Pfaff completed a key pass when he scrambled out of the pocket and as he was heading out of bounds on 3rd down. The junior rocketed the ball downfield to a wide open Jack Dunstan at the Tiger 20-yard line. Marty Lenehan would then march in for the easy touchdown as he had a massive gap, thanks to a good push by the offensive line. Suddenly, the Wildcats held a 7-6 advantage with 3:45 to go in the half. 

On Massillon’s next drive, the Wildcats’ defense again looked impressive. Nick Velotta made an amazing sack as Catrone tried to take off, bringing down the quarterback for a loss. Cole Smith then made a huge deflection on a deep ball, forcing the Tigers to punt again. 

Pfaff returned again for the Wildcats, delivering a 16-yard strike to LaSpina. But after some incompletions, Mangan punted with 40 seconds in the half. 

On Massillon’s final drive of the half, Catrone tried to go deep again to Wilson-Lamp, but was nearly picked off by Cole Smith. The Tigers punted with 8 seconds to go in the half, leading to the Wildcats to kneel down. The Cats led 7-6 after 2 quarters. 

The Tiger offense came out to start the second half and from the start, the Wildcat defense continued to look amazing. On three straight plays, the defense had a highlight. Bennett Adler made a key tackle at the line of scrimmage, Hanna rushed all the way from the safety position to make another tackle at the line of scrimmage, and Velotta sacked Catrone. Those impressive plays forced the Tigers punt on 4th and 15. 

On the Wildcats’ drive to start the second half, Jaxon French returned at quarterback. After a near Wildcats fumble and a couple incompletions, the Wildcats punted. 

After a holding call on the Tigers, the Wildcats blitzed, but the Tigers saw it coming. The hosts ran a little screen to Martavien Johnson, and he rushed downfield for a big gain into Wildcat territory. But then Emmett Hanna stepped in front of a Tigers pass for a huge interception at the Wildcat 27-yard line. Hanna used his game-breaking speed to dash all the way to the house for six. Mangan converted the extra point, extending the Saint Ignatius lead to 14-6.

“Emmett is a very good athlete,” said Coach Kyle. “He’s a good basketball and football player. Colleges are looking at him. He’s an excellent student, so the Ivy’s are looking at him. What I’m liking is how he’s taking command. You saw that tonight. He has the talent, and you saw the speed. Be confident and go. He had a big breakthrough tonight.”

The Wildcats’ defense again stood strong on Massillon’s ensuing drive. Hanna and Smith worked well together on two separate plays to block some key passes from Catrone, and the Tigers punted again.

French returned to the field for the Wildcats and handed it off to Lenehan, who found a big hole, but the pickup was negated by a holding call. Massillon managed to sack French, leading to a Mangan punt at the end of the third quarter. 

Catrone found a rhythm to start the fourth, finding Ballard for a 12-yard gain. After a nice tackle by Hubbard for a loss of two, the Tigers decided to go for it on 4th and 11. An extremely unfortunate pass interference was called in the end zone, a call that changed the game. The penalty moved the chains for the Tigers. 

Venson gained 10 yards to set up first and goal, notched another 9 yards to set up the Tigers at the one, and then finished off the drive with a 1-yard TD. The Massillon offense stayed on the field for a 2-point conversion, and they got it, with a pass from Catrone to Ballard on a trick play. The clutch conversion knotted the score at 14-all.  

On the first play of the next Wildcats’ drive, an unfortunate call furthered Massillon’s momentum. A Wildcats’ pass that appeared to simply be an incomplete toss to the running back in the flat was ruled a lateral, and scooped up by Massillon. On the very next play, Massillon took advantage, as Venson charged into the end zone from 15 yards out for a touchdown with 7:02 left to play. In the blink of an eye, the Tigers led, 21-14. 

“We were out there too long on defense. We were doing a pretty good job, but the offense needs to give them a break,” Coach Kyle said. “That started adding up, and they started finding seams. When you’re just a fraction late reacting, good running backs will hurt you.”

Pfaff trotted out onto the field on the next drive. After two unsuccessful plays, Pfaff launched a deep ball on 3rd and 10, attempting to avoid a 3 and out. Massillon picked off the pass to gain good field position again. 

However, after the pick, the Tiger offense couldn’t gain much in Wildcat territory. On 4th and 9, the Massillon kicking team was sent out to attempt a 41-yard kick. A false start on the Tigers pushed them back 5 yards, so the playcall got changed, the Tigers went for it on 4th and 14. Chris Snyder made a huge interception and cut upfield into Tiger territory, setting up a chance for a comeback drive.

The final Wildcat drive of the game could not generate any momentum, with several passes just missing the intended targets. The Wildcats turned the ball over on downs, and Massillon ran out the clock to hang on for a 21-14 win.

“No scrimmages and for us, not a lot of double sessions, we gotta find some things out. Practices only tell you so much. You can look great in practice, but it’s different in games. We’ll look at the film and get better,” said Coach Kyle.

The win marked just the second for the Tigers over the Wildcats, as Saint Ignatius owns the 12-2 series advantage. 

Looking at the quarterbacks, Pfaff completed 7-of-12 passes for 69 yards, while French notched a pair of completions for 2 yards. 

“We said coming into the game that both would play. They’re two juniors,” explained Coach Kyle. “We wanted both of them to get varsity work. We’re already in the playoffs, and we didn’t have any scrimmages. They knew all week that they would both play. I’d like to win games like anybody, but you need to develop. This scenario, as crazy as it is, you have to take a step back and realize that we need to develop and learn from mistakes.” 

Lenehan led Wildcats running backs with 13 carries for 75 yards. Jack Dunstan led the Wildcats’ receivers with 3 receptions for 48 yards. 

On defense, Aidan Hubbard led the way with an exceptional 10 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. Hanna notched 6.5 tackles along with the INT, while Aidan Conway and Griffin Taliak each tabbed 6 tackles. The defense combined for 8 tackles for loss. 

A road matchup with St. Xavier next Saturday at 5 pm looms next for the Wildcats.

“We’re going to drive down to Cincinnati, play the game, and drive back, so it won’t be easy,” Coach Kyle said. “But we can’t whine about it, let’s go.”