OHIO CITY, Oh - The Saint Ignatius Wildcats (2-8) headed into the final week of the regular season looking to boost morale before the OHSAA Playoffs as they hosted their annual international foe, the Football North-Clarkson (ONT) Chargers (3-3), at Wasmer Field on the campus of Saint Ignatius High School.
On Senior Night, signal caller Josh Papesh and his offense took the field looking for a hot start, but a holding call on the opening drive stalled the offense and Tommy Kilbane came out to punt.
Football North ran the entire first quarter clock down on their first drive in the matchup between these two programs last year. While not to the same extreme as last year, the Chargers still played methodically, burning almost six minutes on their first drive, even converting a 3rd and 19 after a Garrett Butchko sack, getting to the Wildcat 40.
On a first down, they gave the ball to Brandon Ward and he was met quickly by Cody Haddad, who jarred the ball loose, allowing Ryan Ardire to fall on it, making it Haddad’s third forced turnover in five quarters of action since his return.
Grant Washington got hot to kick off the next drive, breaking off runs of 17 and 18 and pushing the ball inside the North 30-yard line. Max Ritt then had his fun, catching a pass for 13 yards and ripping off a 15-yarder to get to the North 10. A fumbled snap and a sack on consecutive plays stalled the drive as time expired in the first quarter. Kilbane knocked home a 33-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter to give the Cats an early edge.
Football North went three-and-out thanks to a tackle for loss and a pass breakup, both by senior corner Max Woidke, forcing a Charger punt. Washington picked it right up from the last drive, scampering for 28 yards and going for an eight-yard gain to move the sticks. Ritt got the ball down to the four, but a holding penalty and seven-yard tackle for loss by Graham Harburn forced Kilbane on again, where he drilled his kick from 28 yards out to extend the Wildcat lead to 6-0 with 4:45 to play in the first half.
The teams traded punts as the rainfall continued to pick up. Still, the Chargers finally got something going when quarterback Winston Chapman threw a deep ball that was deflected by Haddad but landed right in the hands of Lucas Weir in the end zone, and the extra point put Saint Ignatius behind 7-6 with 1:29 remaining in the second quarter.
The Wildcats wanted the lead going into the break and Papesh ran a beautiful two-minute drill. He connected with Marcus Tekancic for eight, hit Washington for 12, gave Jordon Rodman a good ball for 12 and zipped one to Johnathan Merimee for 19, putting the ball on the North 43-yard line with 44 seconds left.
Facing pressure on second and long, Papesh floated a pass into the flats for Ritt, who collected and took off, cutting to the middle and finding the end zone, making the score going into the break 13-7.
North got the ball out of the half and must’ve had an incredible locker room talk as they made short work of the vaunted Wildcat defense. Ward did most of the damage, picking up 32 yards and Chapman finished the drive, throwing to a wide-open Will Russell in the end zone to make a statement early in the third quarter and taking a 14-13 lead with 9:42 on the clock in the third.
The Wildcat offense responded with a three-and-out, and it didn’t take long for Ward to rumble again, this time for 30 yards and he capped it off three plays later with a seven-yard haul, making the score 21-13 in the blink of an eye with 7:29 remaining in the third quarter.
The home side offense once again relied on their two playmakers out of the backfield, with Washington and Ritt picking up four consecutive first downs. Papesh found his favorite target, Merimee, down at the three-yard line and Washington finished the drive from three yards out. The offense went for two and tight end Patrick Mattimore snuck free for the conversion from Papesh. The game was knotted at 21 with 2:56 left in the third.
With help from a holding and a personal foul on Football North, the defense got a huge stop and forced a punt. From the North 48, Ritt broke off gains of 16 and 13 to start the fourth frame. A false start stalled the drive, but Kilbane again was money, this time from 28 yards out, as the Wildcats regained the lead with 9:10 remaining in the ball game.
Football North was able to pick up two first downs during the next drive but had to punt and took off four minutes of the game clock in the process. Saint Ignatius took off another two and a half minutes before punting back to North.
The defense was at its best late in the game, smothering the North offense in multiple facets. The defense shined the brightest in a do-or-die drive for the Chargers. Ardire and Bobby Rosol combined to stop Ward on first down and Pat Cooney hit Chapman, forcing an incompletion on second. A screen pass was dropped on third and Woidke batted down a fourth down attempt over the middle, all but sealing this one as the Wildcats took over with 1:53 to play and North having one timeout remaining.
After three kneel-downs, Kilbane hit a gorgeous punt, draining 11 seconds from the clock on a 53-yard bomb. North tried one last deep pass, but Haddad made a leaping interception and ran the rest of the clock out to seal a critical win for the Blue and Gold.
Washington and Ritt became the first Wildcat duo to rush for over 100 yards in a game since the 2021 season when Marty Lenehan '22 and Joey Georges '22 achieved the feat. Washington rushed for 114 yards on 14 carries and found paydirt once. Ritt toted the rock 14 times as well, rushing for 106 yards and through the air, caught two passes for 56 yards and a touchdown in the 24-21 victory.
Papesh finished the game going 14-of-22 and passing for 165 yards and a touchdown. Haddad continues to lead the defense, forcing two more turnovers in just his second game back as he would force a fumble and haul in an interception in the win. Haddad also collected a team-high 11 tackles.
The Wildcats finish the regular season seeded 12th in Division I Region I and will now prepare for the OHSAA Playoffs. It will be a rematch from August 26 as the Wildcats will travel to Jerome T. Osborne Sr. Stadium to take on the Mentor Cardinals (7-3). The Cats defeated the Cardinals 16-14 in the regular season match-up.
Friday will mark the 28th overall meeting between the Wildcats and Cardinals and the sixth time these two play consecutive times in a season. It is worth noting the team who lost in the regular season would go on to win the playoff match-up. Kick-off will be at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 27.