OHIO CITY, Oh - The Saint Ignatius Wildcats have moved on to the next round of the OHSAA Tournament with a 33-6 win over the John Marshall Lawyers. The Wildcats now hit the road to Cleveland Heights for the Regional Quarterfinal to take on the 10-1 Tigers.
“You can’t imitate the speed or hitting level in practice; the game is when you find out how your technique is improving,” says Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle ‘69. “John Marshall has good coaches and I got to know them during the track season; they have done a nice job with that program. I think that was a great experience for our guys.”
Saint Ignatius owns an overall record of 13-3 over Cleveland Heights and this will be the first meeting between these two programs since 1993. The Wildcats have a favorable program record in the Regional Quarterfinal at 14-6. Cleveland Heights will be looking to advance to its first Regional Semifinal in program history.
SAINT IGNATIUS OFFENSE VS. CLEVELAND HEIGHTS DEFENSE
The ground game worked well for the Wildcats in the opening round of the playoffs against the Lawyers. In the win, the Wildcats saw ten different backs get carries. Senior Michael Norman had a night to remember, toting the rock eight times for 51 yards and a score. Junior Sean Martin started the scoring at the 9:44 mark with a two-yard touchdown run and Martin finished his night in the first quarter with six carriers for 27 yards.
With Saint Ignatius taking command early against John Marshall, they decided to run out a different look on the offense by placing senior Max Palinski at running back. Palinski is usually the outside linebacker for the Wildcat defense but would tally his first carry on an outside run that would go for nine yards. As the postseason progresses, it’ll be interesting to see if Palinski earns more carriers at running back. He has excellent speed and strength and demonstrates that as an outfielder for the baseball team in the spring. Palinski is a future Buckeye as he committed to play baseball at The Ohio State University.
The offense also saw a pair of freshmen make their varsity debut in quarterback Peyton Frontino and guard Will Conroy. It was the first time in coach Kyle’s coaching career he had freshmen take snaps at the varsity level. Frontino would finish 2-of-2 for 16 yards and Conroy was put in at left guard.
Saint Ignatius' offense will have to be prepared to match Cleveland Heights’ explosive offense. The Tigers average 49 points per game and if Cleveland Heights begin to roll on offense, the Wildcats will have to find a way to answer if put in that position.
“We want to get the temp going early so we can wear down their defense a bit. That is when you see the technique begin to fade,” explains Kyle. “They have a bunch of athletes that play both sides of the ball. We hope to control the time of possession; that way, those players are worn down when they go out on offense.”
For Cleveland Heights, senior captain Owen Bisker is one of the many Tiger players that play both sides of the football. Bisker anchored the linebacking core for Cleveland Heights and finished the regular season as the leading tackler with 57.
The Tigers also have a standout secondary, with senior Perez Lemon and sophomore Marquise Brown. For the past two weeks, the Tigers have gotten two pick-sixes, with Lemon getting two in the regular season finale against Shaker Heights and Brown last week against Lorain.
In the regular season, Cleveland Heights’ defense gave up an average of 143 yards per game on the ground. The Wildcats feature a strong running core and will have the opportunity to wear down the Tiger defense as the game progresses with Martin and Max Ritt in the backfield.
SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE VS. CLEVELAND HEIGHTS OFFENSE
The defense seemed to have found its identity right in time for the Wildcat postseason run. In the regular season finale against Football North-Clarkson (ONT), the Wildcats held the Chargers to just one score, a touchdown in the first half. The defense would be just as dominant in the opening round of the playoffs as they would not allow a score until late in the fourth quarter against John Marshall.
The front seven for the Wildcats will have to be prepared for a battle in the trenches in the Regional Quarterfinal as they will face an explosive run offense in the Cleveland Heights Tigers.
“We are going to do a couple of different looks to see what controls the line of scrimmage better and move our linemen around,” Kyle says. “What has to happen is our guys sticking to their assignment. When facing the option, you must be disciplined on your responsibility.”
The Tigers feature a flexbone offense which means two backs will offset the offensive tackles and have a full back line behind the quarterback. This means the Tigers' offense relies heavily on running the football through the option.
Cleveland Heights has a sensational quarterback who captains the ship in senior Darreon Fair. Fair this season has put up video game numbers; on the ground, the senior has 122 rushing attempts for 1,411 yards and 31 touchdowns. Fair has tossed for 704 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air, completing 55% of his passes.
With the Tigers' offense primarily running through the option, plenty of athletes are coming out of the backfield. Marquise Davis is not only a standout on defense in the secondary but also a speedster on the offense. Davis has toted the football 64 times for 763 yards and ten touchdowns as the running back. Davis is coming off a career game where he totaled five touchdowns in the 70-6 win over Lorain, two on the ground, two pick-sixes and one punt block return for a score.
Owen Bisker is another back that has put up insane numbers, totaling 80 carries for 584 yards and nine touchdowns. Finally, John Gordon has totaled 418 yards on 32 carries and found paydirt five times this season.
The Wildcats will show different looks on defense against Cleveland Heights on Friday night to limit the Tigers from getting into a rhythm. Sometimes, the Cats will switch from three down linemen to four and may move linebackers onto the line.
When it comes to the secondary, the Wildcats will rely on Cody Haddad, Brandon Webster and Sean Martin when Fair decides to throw. Cleveland Heights does not throw often, but when they do, Fair’s favorite targets are Jayshawn Wyckoff and John Gordon. Wyckoff has 14 receptions for 172 yards and three touchdowns this season and Gordon has hauled in 12 passes for 165 yards and four touchdowns. The Wildcats will need to put the Tigers in throwing situations early and often.
“Our special teams are a plus in this game,” says Kyle. “Our kick return team needs to be prepared because they will squib their kick’s to try and force a turnover. We have to field those kicks and get into our return. That’ll help us in field position.”
Regarding the punt team, the Wildcats rely on James Collins. Collins’ boot has helped the Cats in multiple games in flipping the field position and that can come into play on Friday night. Collins’ punt last week against John Marshall orchestrated a safety for the defense.
The winner of this game will head to the Regional Semifinal and play the winner of St. Edward and Massillon Jackson. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m. from Cleveland Heights Stadium. The Wildcats will look to extend coach Kyle’s career another week.