On a Saturday afternoon in Cincinnati, Saint Ignatius Football lost the Jesuit Bowl to Saint Xavier, 62-37, in a high-scoring, high-intensity game to wrap up the regular season.
The Wildcats will be in the playoffs, despite the 1-3 record, as every team makes the playoffs in 2020. The Cats will take on the Solon Comets at Baldwin Wallace’s George Finnie Stadium next Friday.
The Cats received the kick to begin the game against the Bombers at St. Xavier Stadium. The very first play of the Wildcat drive was a bomb downfield thrown by Joe Pfaff to Emmett Hanna for a touchdown. The coaching staff drew up the playaction pass to Hanna, normally a safety, before the game and it worked to perfection. The mood was set for this game and the prediction of a high scoring game only escalated from here.
The Bombers took their home field next on offense and immediately got to work with their Penn State commit wide receiver Liam Clifford. Ryan Nolan found Clifford for the first of many deep balls to get the Bombers to the Wildcat 30-yard line. Bombers’ running back Charles Kellom then ran for a 30 yard touchdown to tie it up 7-7.
On the following drive, the Wildcat offense was highlighted by a 4th down conversion that led to a 48 yard field goal from Declan Mangan. The Cats led 10-7 with 5:06 left in the 1st quarter.
St. Xavier then changed quarterbacks, switching out Ryan Nolan for Brogan McCaughey. The Bombers then threw an interception to Wildcat corner Cole Smith, and the senior took it to the house for six. Mangan tacked on the extra point for a 17-7 Cats advantage.
McCaughey seemed more comfortable on the next drive, as he led the offense for a longer and longer drive with the hurry up offense. The drive halted when Aidan Hubbard came up with the ball in the redzone on an interception, allowing the offense to take over at the Wildcat 16-yard line. The drive was quick and ended with a Mangan punt that also ended the first quarter, 17-7 Cats after the first stanza.
On the first play of the second quarter, McCaughey cannoned a ball downfield to Terrell McFarlin for a touchdown, with the lead becoming thinner at 17-14 Cats.
The Wildcats followed their original game plan for the day, sending in Jaxon French to begin the second quarter on offense. French got sacked on his opening play and then the Bombers picked off a pass. The Saint Ignatius defense had a pair of quality plays, as Taliak got to Clifford in the backfield and gave the Bombers a big loss. Chime followed in Taliak’s footsteps with a tackle of his own that resulted in a loss for Saint Xavier. The Bombers then booted up a field goal to end their drive after the turnover, tied again 17-17.
Marty Lenehan then led the way for this Wildcat drive as he had four consecutive runs, the first three runs all being over 5 yards and the fourth run getting the Cats all the way down to the Bomber 14-yard line. French and Dunstan missed their connection 3rd and 6, bringing out Mangan again for a field goal attempt that he of course drilled, 20-17 Cats led.
Yet as soon as the ironically explosive Bomber offense hit the field again, McCaughey shot a missile to his lead wide receiver Clifford. The senior caught the ball at the St. Xavier 45, and then ran all the way to the house. The Bombers snagged their first lead of the game, 24-20, forcing the Cats to have to play catch up for the rest of the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball took an awkward bounce, which was recovered by the Wildcats at the Saint Ignatius half-yard line. Lenehan got slammed back for a Bomber safety on the next play, a quick 6 points for the Bombers in under a minute, extending the lead to 26-20 St. X.
Mangan sent the ball back to the Bombers and McCaughey went back to work immediately. The junior QB picked apart the Wildcats once again with a 20-yard strike into the Saint Ignatius half of the field. A few plays later, McCaughey threw a 2-yard pass into the endzone for his other solid wide receiver Jalen Patterson, stretching the lead to 33-20 St. Xavier with 1:47 to go in the half.
French and his crew strutted back onto the gridiron for the Wildcats. The smart signalcaller utilized his athleticism and managed to scramble for a 14-yard gain to charge down the field. French then set up a pass over the middle to Alec LaSpina for a touchdown. LaSpina bounced off of 3 would-be tacklers to make it 33-27 St. Xavier at the end of the first half.
The second half began basically right where the first half ended. McCaughey fired a 38-yard pass to Clifford, allowing the Bombers to execute a 37-yard touchdown pass to Clifford shortly after. St. X ended up not getting the 2-point conversion they attempted, keeping the score at 39-27 Bombers. Alec LaSpina then pranced down the field with several brickwall blocks to return the kickoff to the Bomber 5-yard line. Unfortunately, the Cats were not able to find the endzone in three downs. Mangan sent the kick through the uprights cleanly, narrowing the deficit to 39-30 Saint Xavier.
After a near second pick by Cole Smith, McCaughey continued to find his wide receiver core for more big yardage. On a crucial 3rd and 5, McCaughey found McFarlin wide open and watched him as another deep ball touchdown got added to the books for the night, 45-30. However, another 2-point conversion did not work out for the Bombers, as Hubbard swatted McCaughey’s pass.
Pfaff started his next drive off well, highlighted by a 15-yard pass to Jack Dunstan and a 15-yard scramble. But the drive ended with an interception, a crucial turn of momentum. As the Bombers came closer and closer to another touchdown, sophomore defensive back Brandon Webster made a clutch deflection to force the Xavier kicking team to trot on and clear another field goal through the posts, 48-30 to end the third quarter.
It would then be a very short drive for the Cats, as Mangan ended up having to boot away his second punt on the night.
The next play tacked on more points for this overpowering Saint Xavier offense, McCaughey shot up another touchdown pass, extending the lead to 55-30 Bombers.
Pfaff managed to initiate a scoring drive late the 4th quarter, as he found Dunstan on a solid pass in coverage on 4th down. Lenehan ran in for a 7-yard touchdown to polish off the drive, setting the margin at 55-37.
The game ended in an unfortunate manner with a St. Xavier interception and then a 96-yard Bombers touchdown run with the second-team defense on the field. The Bombers walked away with a 62-37 victory, the highest-scoring game in the history of the rivalry. Interestingly enough, the two previous highest scoring games between the Wildcats and Bombers occurred in 1999, a 42-41 loss, and in 2001, a 55-30 loss. In both seasons, the Wildcats won state championships.
Marty Lenehan led the way for the Wildcats with an impressive 145 yards on 25 carries. Pfaff topped the team with 136 passing yards on 9-of-15 passing. Aidan Conway finished as the leading tackler with 8 tackles, with several members of the secondary out on Saturday.
The Wildcats open the playoffs on Friday against Solon. The Cats own the 4-2 series advantage, all playoff games, with the last meeting coming in 2016.