PARMA, Oh - Saturday’s matchup at Byers Field featured the 3-2 Saint Ignatius Wildcats vs. the 2-1 River Rouge Panthers (MI). After dropping the season’s first two games, the Wildcats came into the game with a three-game win streak. The Panthers’ previous game was forfeited by their opponent, so they went into this week having not played a game in two weeks. The contest between these two programs was not pretty and involved a lot of solid defensive play on both sides, but ultimately, the Football Cats came away with the well-earned win by defeating the Panthers by a score of 24-12.
The action got underway from Byers Field as the Panthers would kick-off to start the game. The Wildcats would then begin their first drive of the afternoon from their 22-yard line. The offensive possession started well; Marty Lenehan broke out a 22-yard run to get the Cats out toward midfield. The offense was able to gain a couple of first downs before an injury to senior quarterback Joey Pfaff caused the drive to stall out. Zeb Eldridge would then punt the ball to the River Rouge two-yard line.
The Panthers’ drive was fueled by several quarterback keepers up the middle by Christian Johnson. Then a substantial 45-yard completion from Johnson to Jaylen Watson propelled the River Rouge offense deep into Wildcat territory. The drive would go all the way to the Saint Ignatius 19-yard line before the Wildcat defense forced a turnover-on-downs.
The Wildcat offense, now led by Pierce Spencer, drove down to the Panther eight-yard line after the turnover-on-downs. Spencer was able to find both Patrick Thompkins and Lenehan downfield for significant gains. At the eight yard-line, the offense could not get into the endzone and instead brought out the field goal team. Eldridge would knock a 25-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Cats a 3-0 lead just three seconds into the second quarter.
The following two drives ended in punts, despite the Wildcats taking over with good field position. After penalties pushed the Cats out of field goal range, the next drive for the Panthers was good for a touchdown. The drive for River Rouge was a highlight reel for wide receiver Nick Marsh, who made two incredible catches downfield to get the Panthers on the board. They would attempt to go for two, but the Wildcats would stop the conversion to keep it a three-point game. The remaining four drives of the first half all ended in punts, two by each team, and the Wildcats and the Panthers went to the locker rooms with River Rouge leading 6-3.
The second half opened with more defensive solid play, as three straight punts got the third quarter underway. The Wildcats’ second drive of the half started the action as Spencer threw a pass to Lenehan out on a wheel route, who ran it 36-yards down the sideline for a touchdown and Lenehan’s tenth but first receiving touchdown of the season.
Then, the Panthers put together a drive that landed them inside the red zone after converting on a 3rd & 16. Johnson threw a pass over the middle to Watson that he ran up the field to the Wildcat 15-yard line. The massive third-down conversion looked like a huge blow dealt for the Wildcats, but then sophomore A.J. Spellacy came up with a huge play in the endzone. Spellacy leaped into the air and intercepted a Johnson pass to give the ball back to the offense.
After getting the ball back, the Wildcat offense faced a 3rd & 11 deep inside their half of the field. Then, a Spencer dump-off pass to Lenehan went for 15-yards and a substantial first down for the Cats. Lenehan was struck following the first down, and Joey Georges subbed into the game in Lenehan’s place. On Georges’ first snap back in the game, he ran the ball 58 yards for a touchdown to give the Cats a 17-6 lead. It was Georges’ third 35+ yard touchdown of the season.
On the next drive for the Panthers, they found the endzone after Johnson used his arm to push his team up the field. The last play of the drive came on a 32-yard strike to Marsh, which cut the Wildcats’ lead to 17-12. After the touchdown, River Rouge Head Football Coach Cory Parker kept his offense on the field to attempt a two-point conversation. The conversion attempt was thwarted by Franklin Pike, one of the heroes of last week’s win against Archbishop Hoban, who intercepted Johnson’s pass in the endzone.
The next drive for the Wildcats ended in a 4th & 17 punt, but not before Spencer could find Collin Vollmer downfield for a massive first-down pick-up. Vollmer’s catch allowed the Cats to continue to run nearly two more minutes of time off the clock. Eldridge then punted the ball down to the River Rouge 22-yard line.
The Panthers struggled to move the ball down the field as the Wildcat defense, led by Will Robinson and Christopher Aerni, held firm. Robinson came up with a fourth-down sack to give the offense excellent field position. The offense took advantage of the turnover-on-downs as Lenehan dashed into the endzone untouched to put the Wildcats ahead 24-12. Lenehan’s second touchdown of the game put the game on ice and secured the win for the Football Cats.
The Saint Ignatius Wildcats have now won four straight games to improve their record to 4-2 on the season. With the loss, the River Rouge Panthers drop to 2-2 on their season. In what was not the prettiest of games, the Wildcats did what needed to be done to win.
Spencer stepped up and finished the game on 8-of-20 passing for 118 yards. Lenehan toted the rock 22 times for 64 yards and a touchdown.
The Cats got contributions from several players on both sides of the ball. Georges and Lenehan provided the sparks on offense, and Spencer got the job done at the quarterback position. On defense, SIBN Players of the Game, Robinson and Spellacy, secured huge plays that swung momentum to Saint Ignatius and proved to be huge factors. Next up for Saint Ignatius is the ever-anticipated matchup with the Saint Edward Eagles. That game will take place at First Federal Lakewood Stadium next Saturday. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m.