SPRINGFIELD, Oh - The 2021 regular season kicked off for the Saint Ignatius Wildcats on the road in Springfield Friday night as the Wildcats fell to Springfield 20-24 in a thriller. Clutch plays made late in the fourth quarter by Springfield gave them a week one victory as a Micha Johnson pick-six was the game-winning play by Springfield.
It was the Battle of the Wildcats to open the 2021 season as it was a wire-to-wire battle between Saint Ignatius and Springfield. Saint Ignatius could not have scripted a better start against a formidable opponent in Springfield. On the opening play from scrimmage, senior Braeden Lair would pick off Te’Sean Smoot to give the Wildcats an early offensive possession.
Saint Ignatius would have a methodical drive on offense, dominating the time of possession and moving the ball down the field. Senior captain Marty Lenehan opened up the night of scoring as he broke away from the Springfield defense, staying up-right on his way to the 22-yard touchdown. Lenehan would lose his shoe in the process while falling towards the ground; however, no whistle was blown, and Lenehan found a way to continue the play for a touchdown as Saint Ignatius took an early 7-0 lead with 10:35 left to play in the first.
Springfield would strike on a deep play late in the first quarter as Smoot connected with Anthony Brown for a 74-yard touchdown reception on a streak route past the Saint Ignatius secondary. With the PAT, Springfield would knot the game at seven apiece.
The Wildcats of Springfield would take their first lead of the night at the 8:23 mark of the second quarter as Cole Yost connected on a 27-yard field goal to give Springfield a 10-7 lead. Saint Ignatius would strike back late in the second quarter to retake the lead as Lenehan would scamper in for an 11-yard touchdown run, his second of the night.
On Friday night, Lenehan was the workhorse for the Wildcats offense as he would have 20 rushing attempts for 84 yards, scoring two rushing touchdowns.
The Saint Ignatius defense would remain stout to end the second quarter, giving the offense a late chance in the half to tack on to their lead. Senior kicker Zeb Eldridge hit a field goal from 28-yards out to give Saint Ignatius a 17-10 lead heading to the break.
Time of possession would be a significant advantage to Saint Ignatius in week one as the Wildcats would have control of the ball for a total of 39 minutes. The Wildcats would continue to drain the clock and control the tempo in the third quarter at Springfield Wildcat Stadium. The defense for Saint Ignatius would make big plays in the third quarter, as they would force a turnover on downs in Springfield territory to give their offense great field position late in the quarter.
The front seven for the Wildcats had a significant amount of positive takeaways after week one. Senior captain Peter Chalhoub would lead the defense with two sacks and three total tackles. While the other defensive end, Will Robinson, played a strong game collecting four tackles. The front seven would gold Springfield’s rushing attack to just 45 yards, a great building block for things to come for the defense.
Saint Ignatius would flip sides of the field, looking to push their lead to a two-possession game in the fourth quarter. Springfield would keep the Wildcats out of the endzone, but a 44-yard field goal by Eldridge gave Saint Ignatius a 20-10 lead with 10:13 left to play in regulation.
After the touchback on the kick-off, Smoot would drop back to pass on first down and ten. Senior Jack Mangan would intercept an underthrown pass to give Saint Ignatius the ball at their own 47-yard line with a little over nine minutes to play in the game.
The Saint Ignatius offense began to burn time off the clock, but Springfield’s Jokell Brown would come away with a fumble recovery, giving the ball back to Springfield’s explosive offense. The turning point of the ball game came near the four-minute mark as Springfield was staring at a fourth and long from their own 21-yard line. Smoot found his target Daylen Bradley on a slant route for a 56-yard reception to continue the possession for Springfield. In the proceeding play, Smoot connected to Shawn Thigpen for a 26-yard touchdown reception to pull Springfield within three with 3:38 remaining in the game.
Following the Springfield touchdown, Saint Ignatius was backed up in their own territory, looking at a third and 16. Senior Joey Pfaff went back to pass and was picked off by Johnson, who would go 34-yards on a pick-six to give Springfield a late 24-20 lead with 2:57 remaining in regulation.
Saint Ignatius would begin with excellent field position after the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Springfield. The Cats would get the ball inside the Springfield 20-yard line but was stopped on fourth and long.
With a minute left to play in the game, Smoot would take it upon himself to give Springfield a week one winner as on a third and five; he found just enough room to provide Springfield with the game-sealing first down.
Pfaff would finish the game, completing 12 of his 30 passes for 163 yards and one interception. His favorite target was senior Patrick Tompkins, who caught five passes for 115 yards.
Next for the Wildcats is a trip to Mentor to take on the 1-0 Cardinals at Jerome T. Osbourne Senior Stadium at 7 p.m. The Cardinals are coming off an impressive 49-7 victory against Canton McKinley at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium last Friday night. Despite the opening week loss by the Wildcats, there were plenty of positive takeaways that the Cats hope to take on the road to Mentor.