STRONGSVILLE, Oh - Saint Ignatius and St. Xavier met for the 29th time in program history and the "Jesuit Cup" has been a staple for the past 23 consecutive years. These two cross-state rivals always seem to put on a great show and have produced many memorable games over the years. The Wildcats entered the game with a 4-4 record after dropping the last two games to St. Edward and Archbishop Moeller. The Bombers made the trip up from Cincinnati with a nearly perfect 7-1 record. Saturday's matchup featured several impressive offensive performances where the Wildcats put together a great team effort and defeated the Bombers 28-21.
The game began with the Wildcat offense on the field and for the first time since week six, they were led by senior signal-caller, Joey Pfaff. The offense struggled to move the ball on the opening drive as Pfaff was intercepted while targeting Colin Vollmer. The Bombers then wasted no time getting points on the board as St. Xavier quarterback Brogan McCaughey, while rolling outright, was able to find Max Klare in the endzone for a touchdown.
The Wildcats were quick to answer with some points of their own. Pfaff delivered a strike downfield to fellow senior Max Muresan for a 36-yard touchdown on the next drive. The following extra point by Zeb Eldridge tied the game at seven. After giving up a quick score to start the game, the Wildcat defense was hungry to get a stop. On the next drive for the Bombers, the defense forced a three-and-out after a pass break up by safety Griffin Taliak.
After getting the ball back after the punt, the Wildcat offense committed a costly turnover. Pfaff and Marty Lenehan had some miscommunication on the hand-off exchange. The Bombers recovered the ball for excellent field position. Then, just a couple of plays later, McCaughey found Terrell McFarlin on a flea-flicker streaking down the middle of the field for a touchdown. The Bombers' second score gave them a 14-7 lead with 3:58 left in the first quarter.
The next drive for the Wildcats looked promising after Pfaff connected with Tompkins for a 28-yard gain to close out the first quarter. However, the offense stalled out after the completion and Eldridge was forced to try a 53-yard field goal. The attempt was short of the goalposts and the score remained 14-7.
The Wildcat defense was able to force another punt by the Bombers. This time a crucial third-down pass breakup by Jack Mangan was the key. The next possession for the Saint Ignatius offense resulted in a quick three-and-out. Eldridge's punt placed the Bombers at their 24-yard line with seven minutes remaining in the first half. The Cats were then able to stop McCaughey on a fourth-down scramble and gave the ball back to the offense at their 48-yard line.
While the Wildcat defense had come up with some big stops earlier in the game, this time, the Bombers were able to come up with a sack on third down to force the Cats to punt. Eldridge's punt was perfect, downing St. Xavier at their one-yard line. Then more strong defensive play followed, as another pass breakup by Mangan forced the Bombers to punt once again.
After the punt, the offense finally came to life. Pfaff avoided another punt by finding Sean Ward for an eleven-yard pickup and a first down. Later in the drive, Pfaff was flushed out of the pocket and threw a great ball into the hands of Tompkins for a four-yard touchdown. Tompkins' fourth touchdown catch of the season tied the game at 14-14 as the game headed into halftime.
The second half got underway, with coach Ryan Franzinger's defense picking up right where they left off. The Wildcats were able to force the Bombers to punt on their first possession of the third quarter. On the next drive for the Cats, Pfaff connected with Vollmer for an impressive 46-yard gain. The offense suffered another miscue as a fumbled hand-off exchange once again cost the Wildcats the ball and a scoring opportunity. The turnover came as the Cats were deep inside Xavier territory at the seven-yard line.
The Bombers started their next drive with a challenging field position after the turnover, and the Wildcat defense took advantage by forcing another quick three and out. The ensuing punt by the Bombers only went 40 yards and the Cats took over on offense at the 47-yard line. Pfaff and the offense wasted no time using the excellent field position. Still, at the 47-yard line, Pfaff launched the ball downfield into the hands of Muresan for a touchdown once again. Muresan's second touchdown catch gave the Wildcats a 21-14 lead with 5:41 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing drive for the Bombers, their offense continued to struggle against the stout defensive front of the Wildcats. The Xavier punt team was forced to work once again and placed the Cats on their own 32 with 4:02 left in the third quarter.
The offense began to move downfield, picking up a first down on a big carry from Joey Georges, but an errant throw by Pfaff gave the Bombers the ball back. The Bombers worked quickly to get deep into Saint Ignatius territory. Their drive culminated in a McCaughey touchdown run from the one-yard line to tie the game at 21-21 with 10:45 left in the fourth quarter.
The next drive for the Wildcats was halted by the St. Xavier defense, who forced the Cats to a three and out. Eldridge's punt placed the Bomber offense down at their 38-yard line. The Wildcat defense quickly returned the favor as they, too, shut down the opposing offense. The Bombers field goal team fumbled the snap as they attempted a 50-yard field goal. Mangan was able to tackle the punter as he tried to run for the first down.
The Wildcat offense then took over with the ball at their 44-yard line. Pfaff led the Cats down the field by way of two huge completions. The first was a 3rd & 7 pass to Muresan over the middle for 17-yards. Then, a 26-yard deep ball to Tompkins erased a 1st & 19 for the Wildcats. After the massive first down pickup, it was time for Lenehan to break loose. The senior back cut back on a counter run and galloped into the endzone untouched for a 20-yard score as that run would put Lenehan over the century mark on the ground. Lenehan's first touchdown of the game gave the Cats a 28-21 lead with 5:40 left in the fourth.
The Bombers started their next drive with two chunk plays. First, 11-yard completion to Klare and then a screen pass that propelled St. Xavier to the Saint Ignatius 35-yard line. The offense for the Bombers stalled out from there. After a holding penalty, set them well behind the sticks and forced them to punt the 40-yard line. Then, another special team's mistake in the form of a blocked punt by the Wildcats gave them the ball back at their 38-yard line.
The Wildcat offense could not run out the remaining time on the clock as the Bombers shut down the Cats and forced another Eldridge punt. This time, Xavier was pinned down at their 17-yard line. The Bombers began to advance the ball downfield, but their drive stalled out around midfield with little time remaining on the clock and a grand final stop from the Wildcat defense. The game ended with an interception by Joe Norris on the game's final play to give the Wildcats a 28-21 victory over the Bombers.
Pfaff was 10-for-21 for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Lenehan had 32 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown. Muresan had three receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Tompkins added four catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.
The 2021 Edition of the Jesuit Bowl resulted in a Saint Ignatius victory over St. Xavier, the #4 ranked team in Ohio. It seemed that the Cats' offense is starting to hit their stride and the defense is continuing to be a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron. The Wildcats get back above the .500 mark as they improve to 5-4 on the season. Next up for Football Cats is a Senior Night matchup against Football North. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Byers Field for the regular-season finale.