DETROIT, MI - The Saint Ignatius Football Wildcats left the friendly confines of Ohio and hit the road north to Michigan. They took on the 3-0 River Rouge (MI) Panthers in their home opener. The Cats stormed into Panther Stadium and were able to steal a win away from their formidable foe with a 21-14 victory.
As has been the case in every game, the offense, led by junior quarterback Joshua Papesh took the field first. After three unsuccessful plays, the unit team took the field, but James Collins' spiraling punt was muffed by the Panthers, which Max Ritt was able to recover.
After the offense re-entered, Papesh immediately connected with senior Brandon Webster for an 18-yard touchdown. "We watched a lot of film this week and we saw the corners pressed up," Webster explains. "I knew they wouldn't keep up with me and Pap would hit me."
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Panther quarterback McKale McDowell had trouble with the snap and Ed Soeder fell on the ball for another Wildcat takeaway. With the ball at the nine-yard line, Papesh hit Brady Haddad in the flats, who made a man miss and walked into the end zone to give the Cats a two-score lead with 4:54 remaining in the opening quarter.
Markell Gilford took the following kickoff to the Saint Ignatius 25-yard line, but the defense held strong and, via Eugene Gibbons' first sack of the night, set up a fourth and long. The Panthers kept their offense out on the field. Ban Taliak broke up the pass in the end zone on fourth down to force a turnover on downs.
The offense stalled after the defense stood firm on the goal line, so Collins was out to punt again to start the second quarter. It was not Collins' best, as the ball went out of bounds at the Wildcat 40-yard line.
River Rouge took advantage of that mistake when McDowell hit Gilford in the end zone for the score. The Panthers chose to keep the offense on the field for the two-point conversion. McDowell was pressured and was hit on the release by Gibbons. The try would get intercepted by Sean Martin and the Wildcats kept a 14-6 advantage with 11:48 left to go in the first half.
Again, the Wildcats stalled, but Collins redeemed himself with a coffin corner punt that went out of bounds at the Panther one-yard line. They got close to forcing a safety but ultimately caused a punt.
Max Ritt, who was filling in for Charlie Dunstan on punt return duties, caught the dribbling punt at the 50-yard line, glided down the field, and stormed into the end zone for the Wildcats' third score and the first Saint Ignatius punt return touchdown since 2016.
That ended the half, as neither team could move the ball before the break. The Wildcats were headed to the locker rooms up 21-6.
Eugene Gibbons came out of the locker room angrily and put on a show in the third quarter, recording three sacks on the first two Panther drives.
"I knew they were going to be a tough line to go against," Gibbons says. "I kept my head straight, and I depended on all the other guys to lead the way for me, and it just happened."
The third quarter was a struggle for both offenses as no points were scored and the defenses dominated. The fourth quarter looked to be headed in the same direction, but the Panthers did not let that happen.
River Rouge marched down the field via a couple of long completions to Michigan State commit Nicholas Marsh. Daniel Rucker topped it off with an outstanding toe-tap catch in the corner of the end zone, winning the battle against Martin. The Panthers again went for the two-point try, this time being successful on a rush, making the score 21-14.
The Wildcat offense tried to take as much time off the clock as possible, getting to midfield and facing a fourth and one. Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle '69 sent the offense out, but a false start penalty forced the punt team on again.
So, the Panther offense had two minutes to get in the end zone from 80 yards out. McDowell targeted Marsh on the first play, but Webster forced an incompletion, as he had been doing all night.
On second down, Will Robinson finally got in the backfield to take McDowell down. Another incompletion followed and on fourth down, Max Palinski sealed the game with a sack. The Wildcat offense would complete the win in victory formation.
Unofficially, Eugene Gibbons finished the contest with six total sacks. By the records held by the Saint Ignatius Athletic Department, that stat is a program record for most sacks in a single game by a Wildcat defender.
The Wildcats improve to 4-1 on the season and bouncing back from the loss last week against Archbishop Hoban. The focus now turns to St. Edward as, for the first time since 2014, the Wildcats and Eagles will play from Byers Field in Parma. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m.