Two teams with late starts to the 2020 season will meet in the opening round of the playoffs.
Saint Ignatius and Solon each experienced tough regular seasons, with the Wildcats tallying a 1-3 mark and the Comets dropping to 0-3, due in part to being behind the 8-ball with less practice time.
But don’t let the records fool you, these are two very good football programs. One of the teams will break out a win this week.
Coach Chuck Kyle ’69 will be making his 30th playoff appearance, entering Friday with a 72-18 record. The Cats have a 30-10-1 mark at Finnie Stadium.
"Saint Ignatius and Solon were the two football programs that delayed the longest because of COVID-19, which shows in our results and their results in the limited regular season," says Coach Kyle. "Both of us are good teams. One of us will break through in this game."
SAINT IGNATIUS OFFENSE VS. SOLON DEFENSE
With every team receiving a playoff berth, the Saint Ignatius coaching staff opted to use the regular season as a proving ground to determine the starting signalcaller. After four games, Joe Pfaff emerged as the starter for the postseason.
The dual-threat quarterback has a great arm along with quick legs to maneuver around pressure. Pfaff showcased a quick ability to progress through his reads and make the correct decisions. In three games, Pfaff is 16-for-27 passing with 226 yards and 1 touchdown. Last week, Pfaff led the way with 140 yards, including a 79-yard bomb to Emmett Hanna on the opening play of the game.
Marty Lenehan has helped the offense remain balanced with his quickness and agility in the ground game. The junior tops the team with 275 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground, including 146 yards and a score vs. St. Xavier.
The wideouts will look to help Pfaff out this week. Steven Bodamer caught his first pass vs. St. Xavier, while seniors John Becker and Colin Wiehn could be poised for breakouts. Nick Lamirand, Sean Ward, and Patrick Tompkins will rotate at tight end.
The offensive line is beginning to gel, evidenced by this stat: the unit has only allowed six sacks through four games. Left tackle Gus Salopek anchors the line for the men of Ohio City.
Solon has transitioned to a 3-man front this season, often playing a 3-4. Najee Story is the linchpin of the defensive line. The Northwestern commit leads the team with 2 tackles for loss, adding 7 solo tackles and 10 assists.
Reese Foster stars at linebacker, with 6 solo tackles and 14 assists. Jakob Oldenburg is another one of Solon’s leading linebackers with 7 solo tackles and 6 assists.
Pat McQuaide, the son of Solon coach Jim McQuaide, is a ballhawk in the secondary with 2 interceptions. Joel Kpassou is another talented defensive back, turning in a team-high 12 solo tackles along with 8 assists on the season.
Look for Solon to throw multiple looks and blitzes at the Wildcats to try to keep things interesting.
SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE VS. SOLON OFFENSE
Due in part to injuries, the Wildcats experienced a tough night on the road in Cincinnati last Saturday. With cornerback Chris Snyder and safety Braeden Lair back this week, the Wildcats will look to shore things up against Solon.
Griffin Taliak will play a significant role this week at free safety for the Wildcats. The junior is fifth on the team with 14.5 tackles, registering 1 tackle for loss, as well. Andrew Chime will get the starting nod at safety after a dynamic game, tallying 6.5 tackles and 2 tackles for loss.
Cole Smith will look to keep rolling, too, after a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown vs. the Bombers. Smith also has 12 tackles and 3 pass breakups on the year.
The defensive line will look to make things easier on the secondary with good pressure on the QB this week. Bennett Adler leads the team with 6 tackles for loss, adding 1.5 sacks. Fellow senior defensive end Luca LaSpina is another name to watch. Peter Chalhoub and Tommy Wasinski will play plenty, switching in and out.
At linebacker, Aidan Hubbard has been a stud this year. The senior will join Solon’s Najee Story at Northwestern next fall. On the season, Hubbard has 22 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. Fellow senior Aidan Conway has also been simply outstanding. The middle ‘backer has 20 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack.
As for Solon, the offense runs through multi-year starter Pat McQuaide. The senior is a smart passer, completing 37-of-67 passes for 313 yards and 2 touchdowns this season.
"Offensively, they're a balanced attack," says Kyle. "The quarterback knows the offense well and how to read the defense. He does a lot for them."
Khalil Eichelberger is McQuaide's top weapon, with 387 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground, along with 10 receptions for 135 yards. Eichelberger is a bowling ball who can run you over. He’s a big name to watch.
Joel Kpassou is the team’s best wideout, with 13 catches for 71 yards. No other wideout besides Kpassou and Eichelberger have more than 3 catches. In all, Solon has a solid offense that started gaining momentum last week vs. Medina in a 24-20 loss.
"We’ve got to get some 3-and-outs and get the ball back. We struggled last week with that against a very good team," says Coach Kyle. "We need to get 3-and-outs. The kicking game could be a solid plus this week. When you start adding up field position, it makes a difference. Flow could be important for us."
Declan Mangan has been excellent kicking, converting 3 field goals and 4 extra points last week. The return game has also been great, with excellent blocking and good speed. Coach Kyle will be closely watching the field position battle.
For Solon, Justin Covey is the placekicker, with 4 extra points in 2020. McQuaide and Dominic Morlani split punting duties. Reese Foster manages kickoffs.
Special teams will be absolutely critical for the Wildcats to record a win on Friday evening. In the last matchup between the Comets and Cats in 2016, Matt Trickett's steady booth converted a 34-yard field goal and 4 extra points, and the Wildcats won the field position battle.
All-time, Saint Ignatius possesses a 4-2 series lead over Solon, all in the playoffs.