OHIO CITY, Oh - The regular season has come to a close and a new season begins as the OHSAA Tournament kicks off Friday night as the Saint Ignatius Wildcats (2-8) travel to the East Side to take on the Mentor Cardinals (7-3) in the First Round at Jerome T. Osborne Sr. Stadium.
“It is tough to play the same team twice in a season. It is a little easier with Mentor because we haven’t seen them since week two,” says Head Football Coach Ryan Franzinger ’02. “You have to evaluate how your team and their team have changed throughout the year. Mentor has a natural motivator in revenge."
This will be the sixth time Saint Ignatius and Mentor will see each other twice in the same season. What has been the case for the previous five playoff meetings is the team that lost in the regular season goes on to win the playoff match-up. The most recent playoff battle came in 2021, where the Wildcats thwarted a late Mentor comeback to win 35-32.
On August 25, Saint Ignatius held on to defeat Mentor 16-14 at the JTO for the first time since the 2017 season. Jonathan Merimee’s two-touchdown performance catapulted the Wildcats to their first win of the 2023 campaign.
The Wildcats come into the First Round of the OHSAA Tournament with some momentum after snapping a seven-game losing streak with a 24-21 win over Football North-Clarkson (3-3).
SAINT IGNATIUS OFFENSE VS. MENTOR DEFENSE
Last week, the Wildcats dominated the ground attack, rushing for 197 yards as a team in the win. Senior Max Ritt and junior Grant Washington ran over the century mark, becoming the first pair of Wildcat rushers to achieve that feat since Marty Lenehan ’22 and Joey Georges ’22 did it against the Mentor Cardinals in the First Round of the OHSAA Tournament at Byers Field.
Washington rushed for 114 yards on 14 carries and scored the touchdown that set up a two-point conversion that knotted the game at 21 in the third quarter a week ago. Ritt would rush for 106 yards on 14 carries. Ritt scored with seconds left before the half on a 43-yard reception from Josh Papesh.
“Our focus is to carry our dominance in the run game from last week into Mentor. The evidence from Week Two is that we’re capable of doing that against Mentor,” explains Franzinger. “I think we found a nice rhythm with the run game and that is our bread and butter,”
In their first contest this season, Ritt exploded for 129 yards rushing and was complimented by a 46-yard performance from Washington. Those two in the backfield will play a factor in Friday’s rematch against Mentor.
The Cardinals showcase a smothering defense and shut out three opponents to end the final five weeks of the regular season. On average, Mentor’s secondary has allowed opponents just 129 passing yards per game.
They are led by safeties Antonio Shelley and Caden Markowski. Shelley leads the Cardinals with 76 tackles on the season and two interceptions. Markowski has collected 43 tackles and a pair of interceptions, one coming against the Wildcats in their Week Two meeting.
Junior Caiden Clair is having a standout season in his linebacker position, as he has 65 total tackles, nine for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The Wildcat ground attack will have its work cut out for them in the opening round of the playoffs.
SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE VS. MENTOR OFFENSE
In the last meeting against Mentor, the Wildcat Defense stood out in the game. They allowed just 205 yards of total offense for the Cardinals, limiting the run game to 95 yards.
Defensive Coordinator Dave Cicetti saw big-time production from Greg Hanson and Ryan Ardire, who collected sacks in the 16-14 win.
After allowing back-to-back touchdown drives to Mentor before halftime, the defense came out in the second half with a purpose, not allowing the Cardinals to score in the final 24 minutes of play.
Mentor began to move the ball downfield on their final drive of the game, but the Wildcat defense was able to stand strong just long enough as time would expire right before Mentor could attempt a game-winning field goal.
Mentor has found its groove offensively, averaging 43 points per game in their final five regular season games. “We are seeing more quarterback run by their offense. [Scotty] Fox is a dynamic player for them,” Franzinger says. “They have gotten better each week. It’ll be about us executing this week to slow them down.”
Mentor features a nice balance of run and pass, which the junior signal caller leads in Fox. The Wildcats slowed Fox down in the first meeting as he would go 13-of-23, throwing for 110 yards and a touchdown. With his legs, he rushed for 65 yards and a score.
This is the third time in his varsity career that Fox will match up against Saint Ignatius. This season, Fox has accumulated 2,066 yards on 61% passing and has 21 touchdown passes, including a six-touchdown performance against Shaker Heights. On the ground, Fox has rushed for 313 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Cardinals are a Running Back By Committee, as they will showcase four separate runners, including Fox. Gino Korzunowski is their primary back, who has rushed for 389 yards and four touchdowns in 2023. Other backs include Marty Johnson and Jackson Farley. Johnson has totaled 367 yards and three touchdowns and Farley has 251 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Additions for the Wildcats that did not play in the Week Two match-up are Sean Martin and Cody Haddad. Haddad has forced four turnovers in his first two games since returning from injury.
Wildcat kicker Tommy Kilbane had a career performance a week ago, making all three of his kicks (28, 28, 33 yards). Kilbane hit the game-winner with 9:10 left to go in the game.
“[Alexander] Shuran and [Chris] Haney were terrific with great snaps and holds for Kilbane in the rain,” says Franzinger. “Mentor has a solid Special Teams unit as well; it will come down to who executes better.”
Mentor’s Dylan Tackett does the kicking duties. Tackett is 6-of-8 on the season, with his longest kick coming from 44 yards out. Tackett has missed just one extra point, going 34-of-35.
The 2023 OHSAA Tournament has officially arrived and the Wildcats will look to survive and advance as kick-off from Jerome T. Osborne Sr. Stadium is at 7 p.m. The winner will advance to the Regional Quarterfinal to take on the winner of Canton McKinley and Strongsville.
Due to OHSAA Regulations, the SIBN will be an audio-only stream with Eli Maistros '24, Patrick Laudolff '24, Connor Pick '24 and Dave Takacs '26.
Video rights belong to Spectrum1 and is free to view if subscribed to Spectrum. For non-subscribers, the broadcast will be $9.99.