MENTOR, Oh - The 29th overall meeting between the Saint Ignatius Wildcats (3-8) and Mentor Cardinals (7-4) became another classic between these two programs to open the 2023 OHSAA Tournament.
It was the ninth time these two teams faced off in the playoffs and the sixth time they matched up twice in a season. The caveat was that the regular season winner would lose in the postseason, but the Wildcats broke that streak with a gritty 10-7 win at Jerome T. Osborne Sr. Stadium to advance to the Regional Quarterfinal.
Saint Ignatius won the toss and gave the ball to Mentor’s highly touted quarterback, Scotty Fox. The Cardinals methodically drove down the field, picking up a fourth down and a Fox keeper for 19 yards, got them to the 24 of Saint Ignatius.
The defense picked up there, forcing three plays of no gain and on fourth down, Jonathan Merimee hawked down Fox and dropped him for a sack, forcing a turnover on downs.
The Wildcat offense, led by senior signal-caller Josh Papesh, also took their time getting down the field, draining 6:22 seconds off the clock and getting to the Mentor 23. Papesh got sacked on third down and Tommy Kilbane’s 44-yard field goal was blocked, keeping the game scoreless in the opening frame.
A pass interference pushed the Cardinals from deep in their territory and an 18-yard scamper by sophomore Jackson Farley got them near midfield. The drive stalled and Jacob Brown was brought out for his first punt.
Max Ritt gave the drive a kickstart, going 25 yards, but the Mentor defense snuffed out three straight Wildcat runs and Kilbane punted. The defense picked up where it left off, with senior defensive backs Ryan Roche and Max Woidke breaking up passes, leading to a Mentor punt.
Both teams traded punts as both offenses started to lose steam and a holding penalty on the young Saint Ignatius offensive line brought Kilbane out again.
Two straight Wildcat penalties, a defensive holding and a pass interference, moved Mentor up to the 40-yard line of Saint Ignatius. Fox connected with Austin Van Huss for another 15 and the Cardinals were moving.
On third down, senior Greg Hanson dropped Fox in the backfield for his first sack and on fourth down, Fox scrambled eight of the nine needed yards before he was destroyed by junior Cody Haddad, who kept him short of the line to gain.
With 2:18 on the clock, the Cats went into hurry-up mode, as Papesh connected with sophomore Marcus Tekacic three straight times, getting the ball to the 40, where two Cardinal penalties pushed the ball across midfield.
Passes to Merimee and Ritt got them to field goal range and a Ritt 10-yard run made it a 34-yard attempt for Kilbane with three seconds left, which he drilled as time expired, putting Saint Ignatius up going into the break.
The Wildcats opened the second half with the football. Grant Washington picked up a first down on a 12-yard catch, but on a second and long, Papesh chucked a pass Merimee’s way that Mentor’s Kellen Graham picked off.
After an early Farley first down rush, coach Matt Gray tried to reach into his bag of tricks with a flea flicker, but senior captain Ryan Ardire was not tricked and sacked Fox. However, Fox threw a laser to Justen Hodge for 18 yards, and on fourth and six, Hodge made an exceptional catch and ran for 39 yards to the Saint Ignatius seven.
On first and goal, linebacker turned center turned lineman Bobby Rosol wrestled Fox down in the backfield for a sack, but an unsportsmanlike conduct put the Cards on the four. Haddad broke up a pass in the end zone, and Mentor brought the kicker out. Woidke flew off the edge and got his hand on the 26-yard attempt, keeping Mentor off the board.
Washington broke the game open when he took the first play of the drive 56 yards to the Cardinal 23. An unsportsmanlike conduct on Mentor put the Cats on the eight-yard line, but a holding call made it a tough third and goal from the 17. Papesh fired a pass over the middle that Haddad caught in the end zone, making it a two-score game with 2:24 remaining in the third quarter.
The Wildcat defense remained on the top of their game and forced another punt to end the third quarter as the Cats led the Cardinals 10-0. Washington went for gains of 12, 6, 5 and 8 consecutively to put the ball on the Mentor 38. On a fake jet sweep, Papesh tried to find Washington on a wheel route, but miscommunication led to an easy pick by Caden Markowski at the Cardinal 25.
The teams once again traded punts, with the Wildcats draining almost four minutes of clock, leaving 6:00. Fox connected with Hodge for 16 yards and a first down, then flipped the game on its head by hitting Van Huss, who shook a tackle and ran his way to the end zone, decreasing the Wildcat lead to three with 4:53 remaining.
Washington was able to pick up one first down, letting some time come off the clock, but when the Cardinals got the ball back with 2:39, you knew it was far too much time as Mentor had two timeouts left.
Fox picked up a first down on the ground, then crossed midfield with a nine-yard pass to Hodge and followed that up with a 13-yard QB draw. Hanson and Rosol combined for a huge sack and on fourth down in field goal range, Fox and Van Huss connected for eight when they needed seven and set Dylan Tackett up with a 33-yard field goal.
Coach Franzinger used a timeout to ice him and with seven seconds remaining in the game, Tackett’s kick fell short as Woidke got just enough of the ball to disrupt the kick for his second block of the contest. Papesh came out with the offense in victory formation and the new era of Wildcat football got their first playoff win.
For the second consecutive week, Washington rushed over the century mark as he totaled 107 yards on 23 carries. Papesh finished the game throwing for 85 yards on 11-of-19 passing. Tekancic led the receivers with four catches for 29 yards.
Hanson led the defense with seven total tackles, 1.5 going for a loss. He also added 1.5 sacks in the win. Woidke was all over the field for the Wildcat defense as he finished with five tackles, four pass break-ups and two blocked kicks. The Wildcat defense collected five sacks against Mentor.
The Wildcats advance to the OHSAA Regional Quarterfinal as they will travel to Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium to take on the McKinley Bulldogs. McKinley is a familiar opponent for the Wildcats as they both scrimmage each other in the preseason in the traditional Jamboree game.
The last time the Wildcats and Bulldogs met each other in the postseason was in 2013 at the old Fawcett Stadium, where Saint Ignatius won 38-14. Kick-off is set for Friday, November 3, at 7 p.m. The winner will advance to the Regional Semifinal to play the winner of St. Edward/GlenOak.