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The Wildcat Defense Prevails in Crunch Time

By Eli Maistros '24, 08/28/23, 10:15AM EDT


With seconds remaining in the game, the Wildcat defense holds strong for Head Football Coach Ryan Franzinger's '02 first win.

MENTOR, Oh - The Wildcats took the 30-minute drive to take on their eastside rivals, the Mentor Cardinals. Friday night was the 28th overall meeting between the two Division I powerhouses. Similar to the previous four meetings, the game came down to just one possession. The visitors were able to sneak out a 16-14 win, their first at the JTO since 2017 and Head Football Coach Ryan Franzinger’s ’02 first career win. 

The Wildcats won the toss and deferred, giving the ball to highly recruited junior quarterback Scotty Fox, who was making his second start against Saint Ignatius. The defense did well to shut him down, as Greg Hanson picked up his second sack of the season and Mentor punted on their opening possession.  

Josh Papesh led the reins again and found early success on his first drive, rolling out and connecting for 35 yards with senior captain Jonathan Merimee. The ground game behind running back duo Grant Washington and Max Ritt helped push the ball to the Mentor eight-yard line, but a third-down drop in the endzone by tight end Charlie Young brought the kicker Tommy Kilbane out, where he drilled the 30-yarder. 

On the second Cardinal drive, the Cats’ defense did well once again to slow the passing attack and a big hit from Merimee kept the ball behind the sticks and Mentor had to punt. 

Disaster nearly struck on the first play, as the snap sailed over the head of Papesh, but luckily, he jumped on it 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage. No problem for the senior gunslinger, however, as he loaded up and connected with sophomore Luke Simms down the sideline for 38 yards. 

Washington got going, ripping off gains of six and 12, moving the ball to the Cardinal eight-yard line. But while trying to ride the hot hand, Washington got met at the five-yard line and coughed the ball up, allowing Mentor to take over inside their own five.

The offense couldn’t do much backed up in their own territory and a Nick Rivera hit on third down once again forced the punt team out. 

To start the second quarter, the Wildcats were driving down in Mentor territory with a healthy dose of Ritt, as he carried the ball seven times in the drive, putting the ball on the Cardinal one. Coach Franzinger kept the offense out on fourth down and the decision paid off as Papesh rolled out and hit Merimee for the short touchdown in the corner of the endzone. 

“Our line was dominant and there is not a single senior on our line, so the confidence they had against that Mentor defensive line means everything,” says Ritt. “They gave me holes and I just hit them.” 

The Mentor offense finally clicked when they could move into Cat territory. However, they were faced with a fourth and ten when Fox connected with Austin Van Huss well behind the sticks, but he was able to fight his way to the line to gain and Fox capped the 13-play 75-yard drive with a 6-yard rifle to Grant Cerny. 

The defense kept up the momentum, stopping Washington short on third down and bringing the punt team on. It only took the Cardinals 1:54 seconds of game time to get down the field and score on a Fox five-yard run. In a half that the Cats dominated, the scoreboard was in the favor of the home side. 

Saint Ignatius got the ball to start the half and came out fighting, led by Ritt, who got 28 of 30 yards to get to midfield. With the ball on the 50-yard line, Papesh dropped back and fired a seed up the seam, which senior wideout AJ Haddox hauled in for 32 yards. Just two plays later, Papesh threw a corner fade and Merimee made a remarkable catch, “mossing” the Cardinal defender and scoring the touchdown. The extra point was blocked. 

SIBN Players of the Game vs. Mentor: Ryan Ardire and Max Ritt

Both teams turned the ball over on their next drives. Senior captain linebacker Ryan Ardire rocked Fox and forced the ball out, where Jacob Papesh recovered. On a third and 10, Josh Papesh threw into double coverage and Caden Markowski intercepted his pass. 

Until the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the teams traded punts and short possessions, with both teams sending their punting units out multiple times. But the Wildcats ended this tennis match, draining six minutes and changing off the game clock, going on a ten-play, 47-yard drive. The drive was highlighted by two Charlie Young first-down receptions, one on third and 10 where he dove and hauled in a pass up the sideline for 18. 

Ultimately, Kilbane came out to punt, but the snap was low, and the punt only traveled nine yards past the line of scrimmage, putting Mentor on their own 45 with a minute left and no timeouts. 

Fox came out firing, finding senior Evan Calderwood and Van Huss for 11 and 12-yard gains, putting the ball in Cat territory. A questionable unnecessary roughness penalty was called on Patrick Cooney. The penalty seemed to be the dagger as the ball was moved to the Wildcat 21. On the first down, Fox dropped back and was hit by Ardire for a nine-yard loss and the Cardinals had to spike.

With the ball on the 30 and no timeouts, Fox fired to Van Huss, who caught and went down in bounds at the 21. Chaos ensued, as the offense stayed out thinking they were going to spike, but then the Cardinal kicking crew came out and the offense tried to rush off the field, but they did not end up getting the snap off in time, allowing Saint Ignatius to give Coach Franzinger his first win. 

“As a defense, we kept telling ourselves not to get complacent,” Ardire says. “When you are out there, you want to be the guy to make that play; God willing, I did.”

It was a solid night for the senior signal caller as Papesh would finish 10-of-15 for 156 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Ritt would tote the rock 24 times for 130 yards and was essential in burning six-plus minutes in the fourth quarter. 

Ardire would total two sacks for the defense, including one of the game’s biggest plays that kept the clock ticking with under a minute to play in the first quarter. Hanson recorded his second sack of the season and Nick Rivera led the defense with 10 tackles. 

The Wildcats will host their home opener next Friday, September 1, from Wasmer Field when they welcome a WPIAL powerhouse in the Pittsburgh Central Catholic Vikings at 7 p.m. 

JV & Freshman Update: Saint Ignatius swept all three levels against Mentor for the second consecutive season as the freshman won 42-6 and JV held on to win 14-7.