CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Oh - The legend of Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle '69 lives on. The Saint Ignatius Wildcats traveled to Cleveland Heights for the OHSAA Regional Quarterfinal bout with the 10-1 Tigers. The Wildcat team proved that miracles are true, pulling off the greatest comeback in program history.
The Tigers started with the ball and senior quarterback Darreon Fair immediately went to work. Running the triple option the entire time, Fair orchestrated an 80-yard touchdown drive that was capped off with a QB sneak from the one-yard line with 8:18 left to play in the first.
It took little time for the Wildcats to respond as on the squibbed kickoff, sophomore Cody Haddad picked up at the 35 and raced 65 yards into the endzone to tie the game with just over four minutes gone in the quarter.
"We have practiced that all week," says Haddad. "I saw a lane off the hop and took advantage of it."
Again, the Tigers utilized their triple option, as sophomore Marquise Davis took a pitch, broke a tackle and scampered the rest of the way for a 62-yard touchdown to retake the lead in the first.
The Wildcat offense finally took the field over halfway into the first quarter. On the first play, quarterback Joshua Papesh rolled out and connected with Johnathan Merimee on a deep ball to put the Cats in Cleveland Heights territory.
Facing a third down, Papesh threw to Kennedy, who caught the pass, but fumbled the ball and luckily, senior Brandon Webster was there to recover it over the line to gain at the 12-yard line. Max Ritt took a carry to the house on the next play, getting an extra push from his offensive line, tying the game back up at 14 with 3:40 to go in the opening quarter.
Again, the Wildcat defense could not stop the high-powered rushing attack, as John Gordon was the culprit this time, going 46 yards to the end zone to restore the lead for the Tigers.
Finally, a stop was made when Ashawn Sims got to Papesh on a third down and forced the punt team out to end the first quarter. Fair didn't take long to get things going, as he opened up the new frame with a 66-yard scamper to increase the lead to 28-14 with 10:06 left to play in the first half.
Again, the offense faltered and the Wildcats' punt was shanked, setting the Tigers up with excellent field position. The Wildcats came up with a great stop on third down, but Fair, who also happens to be the punter, ran a trick play and picked up the first down on the run. He capped the drive with another touchdown, making it a three-score game.
With time winding down, Papesh and the offense were moving before a 15-yard penalty derailed the drive. With four seconds left, he was intercepted by Cleveland Heights' Henry Perrymond Jr., who took it back to the house, making the score 42-14 at the half.
The Wildcats could have given up. Any average team would've given up when down four scores at the half. This Wildcat team is anything but ordinary and showed their resiliency in the second half.
To open up the half, Sean Martin got the ground game going, breaking off a couple of big runs to get the ball to the Tiger 15-yard line. From there, Papesh, who is not known for his speed, ran a read option and raced into the end zone to cut the lead to 21. Papesh's 15-yard score got the Wildcats rolling with 10:43 left to play in the third.
The defense came out of the locker room, re-energized and refocused, as apparent on the first Heights drive as they had to bring the punt team out. Fair's punt was shanked, giving the Wildcats excellent field position.
With the ball around the Tiger 40-yard line, Papesh unleashed a bullet off the seam out of reach from the Heights defender and into the hands of Ryan Kennedy, who chopped the lead down to 14. Kennedy's birthday touchdown would come with 7:03 remaining in the third.
The defense again came up big, as Leo Ference forced an errant pitch by Fair that lost the Tigers' yards. On the Heights punt attempt, Fair faked the kick, then rolled out to throw to an open Davis, but Ference timed his jump perfectly and batted the ball away.
Again, the offense marched down the field, exposing the confused Heights defense. On the Tiger 46-yard line, Martin was wide open on a wheel route and turned on the burners, cutting the lead to only seven and spewing faith throughout the Wildcat faithful as the student section grew louder.
As it had all the second half, the defense came up huge again, forcing another Heights punt. Martin would get a carry and break across midfield, shaking off tackles and finally being stopped around the Tigers' 17-yard line. The Wildcats and Tigers would head into the final quarter of regulation with an instant classic finishing brewing.
Shortly after the quarter break, Papesh hooked up with Merimee in the end zone to tie the game at 42 a piece with 10:48 left to go in the ball game. It was the first tie since the 3:40 mark of the first quarter.
Fair took off running on a third down but was hit by both Max Woidke and Garrett Butchko, which caused him to cough the ball up and senior Christian Cupp recovered. The offense, however, could not take advantage and had to punt it right back.
The Tiger offense finally found some of that first-half magic. On second down and eight from the Tiger 28-yard line, Fair launched a pass downfield, the throw had a tad too much air on it, but thanks to a full extension dive, Gordon hauled in the circus catch with just over five minutes to play in the game.
Fair would put a bow on the methodical drive, which included a crucial fourth down conversion, as Fair scored his fourth touchdown to give Heights the lead back with 1:16 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Heights decided to squib kick again, this time in the direction of Ritt, who picked up at the 20-yard line. The junior took off down the sideline, eventually cutting back across midfield and prancing into the endzone, putting the Wildcats down just one with 1:03 left to go.
Tommy Kilbane came out to attempt the extra point, but Cleveland Heights Head Football Coach Mac Stephens used a timeout to try to ice him. Instead, coach Kyle sent the offense onto the field to go for two to finish the job.
Webster came in motion but quickly reversed and went back to the original side, where Papesh could connect before Webster made a man miss and got into the endzone giving the Wildcats an incredible 50-49 lead.
Cleveland Heights could not muster more than three yards on their last drive, which ended with a Max Palinski pass breakup and a turnover on downs. Papesh and company took to the field again, this time in Victory Formation.
"We refuse to lose; we could not let coach Kyle go out like that," explains Martin. "We refuse to lose and keep fighting; that was our motto."
Coach Kyle came into the contest 11-0 against Cleveland Heights; with the improbable comeback, he will remain undefeated against the Tigers, finishing the series 12-0. The Tigers' season ends with a 10-2 record, falling just short of advancing to their first Regional Semifinal.
The Wildcats survive and have earned another week of practice. They will have a rematch against the St. Edward Eagles in the OHSAA Regional Semifinal next Friday at 7 p.m. The OHSAA will announce the location on Sunday afternoon. The Cats and Eagles met in week seven, where St. Edward rolled to a 44-6 victory.