OHIO CITY, Oh - After completing the largest comeback in program history, the Wildcats have earned a rematch with the St. Edward Eagles in the OHSAA Regional Semifinal.
In the Regional Quarterfinal, the Wildcats survived a scare from the Cleveland Heights Tigers. Things appeared bleak for the Saint Ignatius sideline at the break as they faced a 42-14 deficit at the half. However, the Wildcats did not run from the challenge and orchestrated a 28-point comeback.
"When we came out of the locker room, we huddled up and I told the guys, don't worry about the scoreboard," says Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle '69. "You have to believe. Coach Narducci came up to me after the third quarter and said, 'We are already back in the ballgame and we still have a full quarter to go.' You can feel the energy swing our way."
After Cleveland Heights retook the lead with 1:16 remaining in the ball game, the Cats clawed back as Max Ritt returned the Tigers' kick-off 81-yards to the endzone to pull them within one point. The XP unit ran onto the field and before James Kilbane could get set, coach Kyle took a timeout.
"Cleveland Heights offense is not a team you want to go into overtime with because of their run game. I could see a deflation in energy from their sideline," says Kyle. "Carter Welo and I looked at each other and knew we had to go for two. The offense was pumped up for the opportunity and I said, if I am going out, I am going out swinging."
That decision would earn the Cats another Monday practice and they will now take on a familiar foe in St. Edward.
SAINT IGNATIUS OFFENSE VS. ST. EDWARD DEFENSE
Not enough can be said about the bounce-back performance of junior Joshua Papesh. Cleveland Heights' Henry Perrymond Jr. picked off Papesh to end the half and the Tigers would take a 42-14 lead into the break. However, Papesh and the offense came back out with a vengeance.
Papesh would finish the game throwing 10-of-15 for 229 yards and three touchdowns. The signal caller would also rush for a touchdown on a 15-yard scamper that began the Wildcats' rally.
In the second half, Sean Martin became almost unstoppable for the Tigers' defense. The junior running back would finish with 160 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. Martin pulled the Cats within a one-score game when he hauled in a Papesh pass on a wheel route and took it 46 yards for the score in the late stages of the third.
The Wildcats' offense will now turn the page and hope to carry that second-half momentum from the Regional Quarterfinal into the Regional Semifinals in a rematch against St. Edward.
All three facets of the week seven match-up in October belonged to the Eagles as they would rout Saint Ignatius 48-6, the largest deficit loss in the series history for the Wildcats.
The offense could only muster 161 total yards and the lone score came on a Quinn Woidke nine-yard touchdown run.
It was a long night on both sides of the ball and the Eagles feature one of the best defenses in the state. The Eagles are coming off a shutout performance last week against Massillon Jackson, winning 42-0.
The defense is filled with stars like linebacker Wyatt Gedeon and edge rusher Michael Kilbane. Both seniors are Division I college commits, with Gedeon heading to Coastal Carolina and Kilbane going to Northwestern. Before their game against Jackson, Gedeon has collected 13.5 sacks and Kilbane 11, as they both cause significant disruptions on any offense.
"This game brings a lot of nervous energy; offensively, we have to avoid these three and outs," explains Kyle. "We have to keep moving the football. I think we have learned from that first game, that was a while ago, we are a different team and our kids are ready for the challenge."
SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE VS. ST. EDWARD OFFENSE
If the defense doesn't make the kind of adjustment they did against Cleveland Heights in the Regional Quarterfinal, the Wildcats would not be in this position for a rematch against St. Edward.
Darreon Fair and the Tigers' offense dominated the ground game from the opening possession. The flexbone offense hurt the Wildcat defense throughout the first half and Fair had a field day in the opening 24 minutes. Fair rushed for 190 yards on 14 carriers, finding paydirt three times.
One of the many backbreakers in the first half was when Fair successfully pulled off a fake punt, picking up a first down on a fourth and long to continue the Tigers' drive before halftime. That led the Tigers to take a 35-14 advantage before the pick-six to end the half.
"To say faith has nothing to do with it is absurd," emphasizes Kyle. "Coming out of the half, the defense was determined to make adjustments to slow the Tigers down."
Cleveland Heights came into the match-up averaging 50 points per game and the Wildcat defense needed to find a way to slow down the Tigers to allow the offense to pull close.
The defense did just that, forcing punts by the Tigers and, more importantly, not falling for the Tigers' trick plays when they ran a fake. With the Tigers leading 42-28 and sensing the momentum shift, they decided to fake a punt again with Fair. His pass would fall incomplete and the Wildcats' offense would take over near midfield.
When the dust settled in the barn burner, the Wildcat defense allowed 480 yards rushing on 60 carries. The defense slowed down the Tigers' offense just enough to allow them a chance in the game.
Turning their focus to St. Edward, they can not afford to allow the same success on the ground that the Tigers enjoyed last Friday.
St. Edward features a high-powered offense led by junior Casey Bullock. Bullock is a dual-threat QB that orchestrates the Eagle offense to perfection. The Eagles' run game in the first meeting was phenomenal, to the point where Bullock only attempted eight passes in the victory. One of those incompletions was an interception by junior Sean Martin.
This season, Bullock has completed 58.7% of his passes and thrown for 1,362 yards and 14 touchdowns. Bullock also takes care of the football, throwing just five interceptions in 12 games this season. The junior gets it done with his legs as well, totaling 730 yards on 126 attempts and finding the endzone six times.
Last week the Wildcats went against a run-heavy offense; this time around, they will take on a balanced attack Eagle offense.
Through the air, Bullock's favorite target is Kyan Mason. Mason had two receptions in the first meeting, both going for touchdowns. Mason, this season has hauled in 31 passes for 409 yards and six touchdowns. Other targets to watch will be Grayden Lentz-Pieffer and Brian Sullivan.
Since the last game against St. Edward, the Wildcat defense has seen the growth of the secondary featuring Max Woidke, Cody Haddad and Ben Taliak. All will play a factor in slowing the Eagles' aerial attack.
What more can be said about the dominance in the return game than what we saw from Cody Haddad and Max Ritt against Cleveland Heights, both returning kicks for touchdowns. St. Edward will have to be ready if they decide to kick to Haddad or Ritt.
Chuck Kyle will face off against the rival St. Edward Eagles for the last time in his coaching career. Kyle owns a 26-17-1 career record against the Eagles and is 3-1 in the playoff against the cross-town rivals. This will be the 63rd overall meeting and the winner will advance to play either Medina or Mentor in the Regional Final. Kick-off is at 7 p.m. from Euclid Community Stadium.