BRUNSWICK, Oh - The Saint Ignatius Wildcats took on the Medina Battling Bees for the second consecutive year in the Regional Semifinal. Both teams entered Friday night’s game red hot. The 8-4 Cats were coming off a decisive 42-12 victory over the Stow-Munroe Falls Bulldogs, a game where the defense surrendered only 83 total passing yards. While the 12-0 Bees continued their regular season domination through the first two playoff games, outsourcing their opponents 99-14. This matchup between two of the premier high school football programs in Northeast Ohio had all the prerequisites of an instant playoff classic.
The Wildcats won the coin toss and elected to defer to start the game. The Cats’ defense was forced to take the field first and did so with a challenging task ahead of them. The Medina Bees possess an explosive offense led by Drew Allar. Allar is a five-star recruit who is heading to Penn State University next fall. The senior signal-caller got right to work against the Wildcats and led the Bees quickly down the field on an 80-yard drive that ended in a 25-yard touchdown pass to Michael Rodak. The first points of the game gave Medina a 7-0 lead.
The first drive of the game for the Cats’ looked promising. Max Ritt gave the offense decent starting field position with a return to the 26-yard line. Joey Pfaff also completed a 15-yard pass to Max Muresan for a first down. Then, an interception by Pfaff at midfield gave the ball right back to the Bees.
The Wildcats then put together their first defensive stand of the game with a crucial fourth-down stop. Linebackers Chris Aerni and Max Palinksi combined for a three-yard sack of Allar at the 21-yard line of the Wildcats.
Then on the ensuing possession for the Cats, another mistake on offense cost them a prime scoring opportunity. On the drive’s first play, Pfaff and Marty Lenehan failed to execute a handoff and Andrew Delac of the Bees promptly recovered the ball. After another turnover by Saint Ignatius, Medina took over at the Wildcats 17-yard line.
Once again, the defense held firm by forcing the Bees to attempt a 27-yard field goal from the 17-yard line. The attempt was good and Medina took a 10-0 lead with 2:45 left in the first quarter.
After committing turnovers on each of their first two possessions of the game, the Cats finally began to string together a couple of cohesive plays on offense. The Saint Ignatius offense then drove down the field on a 69-yard drive capped off by a 36-yard touchdown run by Lenehan, which gave the Wildcats a desperately needed score. With eight seconds left in the first quarter, the Medina lead had been cut down to three as they led the Cats 10-7.
The final play of the first quarter was a big one for the Cats. Peter Chalhoub, Tommy Wasinski and Will Robinson all combined for an 11-yard sack of Allar. The Wildcats’ second sack of the game forced the first punt of the game by Medina.
The Cats continued to execute on offense and seemed to be taking advantage of some solid defensive play. However, Medina safety Keon Johnson intercepted Pfaff at his 25-yard line and ended the Wildcats’ scoring hopes.
Coach Ryan Franzinger’s defense continued to play with stunning aggressiveness as they forced another three and out by Medina. Frankie Pike played a considerable role in the defensive stop, breaking up a deep pass by Allar intended for Drew Hensely down the sideline.
The Wildcats took over on offense with excellent field position at the Bees’ 39-yard line. The Cats would pick up a first down on a 13-yard completion from Pfaff to Patrick Tompkins, but a holding penalty later in the drive forced Zeb Eldridge to try a 52-yard field goal. The kicking conditions were not ideal for Eldridge and his kick was short of the uprights. The score remained 10-7, with Medina leading Saint Ignatius with 4:15 left in the first half.
The Bees’ offense began their next drive from their 25-yard line after the missed field goal. Allar led his team on a 75-yard scoring drive that ended in a nine-yard touchdown pass to Hensley, who had a 20-yard reception deep in Wildcat territory earlier in the drive. Allar’s second touchdown pass gave Medina a 17-7 lead with 2:06 left in the first half.
The remaining time drained away quickly after the Cats were forced to punt after three plays on their next possession. The Bees then took over at their 12-yard line and elected to take a knee and allow the clock to hit zero rather than try and score more points. As both teams headed to their respective locker rooms, Medina led Saint Ignatius 17-7.
As the Wildcats came out of the locker room to begin warm-ups for the second half, Pfaff stopped and talked with Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku, who was in attendance for Friday night’s game. The encounter was an incredible sight to anyone who witnessed it. Njoku later made his way to the Saint Ignatius student section and joined them for the second half.
The Wildcats needed a big play to spark their offense and Edwin Abiakl did just that. The senior kick returner used his speed to bring the ball across midfield and into Medina territory at the 48-yard line. Another big play followed for the Cats, this time by Lenehan, who exploded out of the backfield for a 34-yard gain to the Medina 18-yard line. Lenehan, dubbed the “Irish Cannonball” by his teammates, toted the rock on each of the next five plays, finally ending up in the endzone on a three-yard touchdown run. The second rushing touchdown of the game for Lenehan brought the Wildcats to within three points of Medina as they trailed 17-14 with 9:10 remaining in the third quarter.
The Wildcat defense continued to limit the Allar and the Bees on their next possession. Wasinski came up huge for the Cats with a third-down sack for a nine-yard loss. After the punt, the Wildcats took over with excellent field position at the Medina 45-yard line.
Turnovers continued to haunt the Wildcats on their next drive. A miscue on a handoff between Pfaff and Edward Musbach allowed the Bees to recover the football at their 31-yard line.
As the Bees capitalized on the turnover, it looked as though fatigue had finally begun to affect the Wildcats on defense. Allar commanded his offense and delivered two perfect downfield passes, each for over 25-yards, one of which resulted in a touchdown to Matt Rudolph. Allar’s third touchdown pass of the game came with 3:46 left in the third quarter and gave Medina a 24-14 lead.
The next drive for the Wildcats lasted just three plays after two short runs and an incomplete pass. Eldridge was then forced to punt the ball back to the Bees and placed them on their 35-yard line.
When the Wildcats’ defense made their way back onto the field, they showed no signs of being tired. The Cats forced fourth down right away, but Medina would convert on a fourth and four thanks to a seven-yard completion to Brennen Schramm. The Men of Ohio City were not rattled as the Bees attempted another fourth-down conversion on the next set of downs and a run by Matt Spatny was shut down by a combined effort by Aerni, Braeden Lair, and Blase Mastrianni.
The fourth-down stop was huge for the Wildcats and gave the offense a chance to cut into the Medina lead. However, more defensive solid play by the Bees prevented a scoring drive for the Cats. Lenehan was brought down for a loss of four yards and forced a punt on a third and one. Eldridge had another good punt and placed the Bees’ offense at their 31-yard line.
On the first play of the next drive for Medina, Allar connected deep with Jujuan Jackson for a 47-yard pickup. The significant gain moved the Bees down to the Wildcat 22-yard line. After the Bees flipped the field on the Cats, the defense dug in and came up with a big stop on third down. Medina chose to attempt a 35-yard field goal. The kick was good and made the score 27-14 with 5:42 left in the fourth quarter.
Once again, with the Wildcats in need of some energy, Abiakl came through. Abiakl returned the kickoff from his own six to the Medina 40-yard line. A late hit penalty was also thrown against the Bees and the Cats’ offense began their drive at the 21-yard line. The light had gone out for the Wildcats as they struggled to move the ball again, turning it over on four plays.
The linebacker core of the Wildcats gave the offense another opportunity after Aerni and Mastrianni made a massive play on third and six to force the Bees to punt. Pfaff led the offense out onto the field and began their drive from the Medina 48-yard line. The Cats quickly faced a fourth and eighteen after the first three plays of the drive failed to create any positive yards. On that fourth-down conversion attempt, Muresan made one of the plays of the season as he wrestled the ball out of the hands of a Medina cornerback. Muresan’s catch went for 29-yards and a first down. Then, four straight incompletions ended the drive for the Cats and the ball went back to Medina.
Allar and Bees took over from their 40-yard line with just several minutes remaining in the game. Even with things looking grim for the Cats, the Men of Ohio City did not slow down on defense as they forced Medina to punt on a fourth and three.
The punt by Medina placed the Cats at their 30-yard line. Pfaff was able to bring the offense down the field, completing a couple of passes to Vollmer and Sean Ward, but it was too late for the Wildcats. The time continued to drain away and a failed fourth-down attempt ended the Wildcats’ season as time expired.
Lenehan rushed 23 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Muresan had five catches for 71 yards. Wasinski had four tackles and two sacks for a loss of eight yards. Chalhoub added three tackles and one sack. Robinson had six tackles and one sack. Palinski also contributed four tackles and two sacks. Lair had six tackles and one sack for a loss of 17-yards. Pike and Sean Martin combined for seven pass breakups.
The Medina Bees remain perfect after they defeated the Saint Ignatius Wildcats for the second straight season in the Regional Semifinal by a final score of 27-14. In a season filled with challenging games for the Cats, this game may have been the toughest of them all.
The Bees have averaged well over 30 points a game and the Wildcats held them to their lowest point total this season. Medina will take on the St. Edward Eagles in the Regional Final next Friday at Byers Field at 7 p.m.
As the football season ends at Saint Ignatius, thank you to all the seniors on the football team and the marching band for a memorable season. Your commitment over the last four years has been incredible.