PARMA, Oh - The Saint Ignatius Wildcats and the Mentor Cardinals met for the second time this season on Friday night. The previous matchup was back in Week 2 when the Cardinals defeated the Wildcats 28-26. It was the fifth time these two programs met for the second time in the same season and the seventh playoff matchup. The Cardinals have the edge over the Cats with a 4-2 record through six postseason meetings.
The last time Saint Ignatius took down Mentor in the playoffs was back in 2011 in the Regional Final. These two Northeast Ohio powerhouses have never met in the playoffs’ opening round and the Wildcats were ready to exact revenge against their familiar foe. After surviving a comeback effort late in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats defeated the Cardinals to advance to the Regional Quarterfinals.
The game opened with the Cardinals receiving the opening kick after the Wildcats won the coin toss and differed. Mentor wasted no time getting on board as they drove down the field in just over four minutes. The offense was forced to settle for a field goal attempt after the defense dug inside the red zone. The field goal try was good by Matt Moegling and Mentor took a 3-0 lead with 7:44 left in the first.
The Wildcats had a chance to answer on their next drive, going 57 yards down the field to get to the Mentor five-yard line. However, the offense stalled out and faced a fourth and goal. Coach Chuck Kyle sent out his field goal unit to try and answer Mentor’s score, but Zeb Eldridge’s 22-yard attempt was wide left and the score remained 3-0 in favor of the Cardinals.
After giving up the early field goal, the Wildcat defense was in no mood to give up more points. They shut down the Cardinals and forced a quick punt that set up the offense with solid field position at their 34-yard line.
On the first play of the drive for the Wildcat offense, Joey Pfaff found Colin Vollmer downfield for a gain of 25-yards into Mentor territory. Later in the drive, Lenehan caught a pass out of the backfield, dashed up the sideline, and dove for the pylon for a 16-yard touchdown. Lenehan’s 17th touchdown of the season gave the Cats a 7-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The first two drives of the second quarter both resulted in a three-and-out for the offense. First, the Wildcat defense forced Mentor to punt. Then, Mentor’s defense did the same. On Eldridge’s punt after the three & out, Joe Norris made a great tackle on the Mentor return man and limited a significant return. Later in that drive for Mentor, Evan Harper made his presence felt at Byers Field as he ran for a 60-yard touchdown. Harper’s first of three touchdowns in the game put the Cardinals ahead 10-7.
On the following kickoff, Charlie Dunstan nearly broke loose, returning it 35-yards to the Mentor 38-yard line. Then on the first of the drive, Lenehan got the hand-off and cut back upfield for a 38-yard touchdown. The ensuing extra point by Eldridge put the Cats ahead 14-10.
After the Lenehan touchdown, it seemed as though the Wildcats had all the momentum in their favor. However, Harper had other plans as he ran the kick return from the one-yard line to the Wildcat 48-yard line. Later in the drive for Mentor, the Cats’ defense was able to force a fourth & three, but the Cardinals elected to go for it and they converted on a Harper first down reception. The Wildcats then forced another fourth down, this time with nine yards to go, and Mentor could not convert this time as Jacob Snow’s pass fell incomplete. After the turnover-on-downs, the Wildcats took over on offense at their 29-yard line.
The Wildcats failed to run out the clock on their next drive; after Pfaff dumped it off to Lenehan to pick up the first, the offense stalled out. Pfaff was then sacked on third down and forced a punt. The punt by Eldridge after the sack pinned the Cardinals at their eight-yard line with 46 seconds remaining. Mentor could not put any points up in the remaining seconds and instead, let the clock run out. As both teams headed to the locker room, the score remained 14-10 in favor of the Wildcats.
Coming out of halftime, the Wildcats were due to receive the kick as they had differed to start the game. Just a couple of plays into the Cats’ drive, Lenehan officially reached the 1,000-yard milestone in rushing in a season. The Wildcats then marched down the field and set up a high-arching touchdown pass from Pfaff to Max Muresan. The score gave the Cats a 21-10 lead just minutes into the third quarter.
The Cardinals got desperate on their next offensive possession with another fourth-down conversion. This time the ball was spotted just inches short of the first down marker. Harper got the ball to try and pick up the first, but the defensive line for the Wildcats once again held strong on fourth down. The Cats then took over on offense at the Cardinals’ 49-yard line.
The primary running back in the second half was Joey Georges, who, on that drive for the Wildcats, broke out two 20+ yard runs. Georges’ second of the two runs went for 22-yards and a touchdown. After the rushing score by Georges, the Wildcats jumped out to a 28-10 lead over the Cardinals.
The Wildcat defense showed more of the same on the next drive. Ryan Boomer and Eugene Gibbons set Mentor well behind the sticks as they combined to sack Snow for a loss of six on second down. On the next play, the defense was able to force another three and out after Snow’s pass fell incomplete on third down. After the Mentor punt, the Wildcats took over on offense at their 38-yard line.
Georges continued to fuel the offense on the next offensive drive. On a fourth & inches, Georges picked up the first down to keep the drive moving downfield. The Cats continued to move the ball and eventually found the end zone off Dunstan’s one-yard jet sweep run. The junior wide receiver increased the Wildcats lead to 35-10 with 19 seconds left in the third quarter.
As the game headed into the fourth quarter, it seemed like the Wildcats were able to win handily, but the Cardinals had other plans. Mentor opened their fourth-quarter offense with a huge passing play down into the red zone from Snow to Nick Farley. Then, Harper rushed into the endzone untouched to cut the lead to 35-17 with 11:36 left in the game.
The Wildcat offense continued to scuffle as they failed to move the ball and run the clock as the Mentor defense forced a quick punt on a three and out. Edridge’s punt placed the Cardinal offense at their 30-yard line.
Mentor used trickery on their next possession, going with the flea-flicker back to Snow, who found a Michael Norwood downfield for a huge pickup. After the chunk play, Snow found Norwood once again, this time for an 11-yard touchdown. Mentor was on the comeback trail as they now only trailed 35-24 with 7:34 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The next drive looked promising for the Cats. Pfaff completed a needed first-down pass to Jonathan Merimee for 15-yards. Then on a fourth and one, Lenehan picked up the first down inside Mentor territory after a substantial second effort. After the first down, the offense could not sustain the drive and Eldridge came to kick a 41-yard FG. Mentor sent the house and the kick was blocked and rolled out of bounds. The Cardinals took over on offense at their 24-yard line with 2:47 to play.
The Cardinal offense in the fourth quarter was far better than in the earlier parts of the contest. Snow controlled the game and led his team 76-yards down the field for a touchdown. The score came off of a three-yard pitch to Harper for his third rushing touchdown of the game. Mentor’s offense stayed on the field to attempt the two-point conversion, and Snow picked it up on a quarterback run to the outside with 2:05 left in the fourth quarter.
Mentor attempted an onside kick after the Harper touchdown and the ball was buried beneath a large pile of bodies from both sides. After a couple of anxious moments, the signal was made that the Wildcats had the football with Damon Frabotta on the recovery. The Cats’ goal was evident as the offense made its way onto the field; get a first down. The Cardinals had previously called all three of their timeouts and had no way to stop the clock. Lenehan would not be denied on the first down carry as he lowered his shoulder and powered past the sticks. The Football Cats then entered Victory Formation and took a knee to officially claim the win over Mentor by a final score of 35-32.
The Wildcats had 390 total yards of offense. Pfaff was 8-of-15 for 131-yards and two touchdowns. Georges ran for 132-yards on 22 attempts and a touchdown. Lenehan rushed 17 times for 117-yards and a rushing and receiving touchdown. Vollmer had two catches for 37-yards. Merimee had two catches for 31-yards. Will Robinson led the way in tackles with ten, including one-and-a-half tackles for loss. Griffin Taliak had eight tackles. Chris Aerni had seven tackles and half a sack. Norris added six tackles as well.
Stat Fact: Georges and Lenehan became the first Saint Ignatius teammates ever to both rush for 100 yards or more in the same game.
The Wildcats held on in the end, surviving a bold comeback by Mentor. The Cardinals scored 22 fourth-quarter points and gave the Cats everything they could handle on Friday night. With the win, the Wildcats get their revenge against a Cardinal team that narrowly defeated them earlier in the season.
The Football Cats advance to the Regional Quarterfinals to take on Stow-Munroe Falls next Friday at Bulldog Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.