CANTON, Oh - The Saint Ignatius Wildcats (3-9) continued their postseason season journey on Friday night as they traveled to Canton to take on the McKinley Bulldogs (9-3) in the OHSAA Regional Quarterfinal.
After trailing 21-3, the Wildcats would score 21 unanswered to take a lead into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the 2023 season ended in heartbreak as the Bulldogs would score a game-winning touchdown with 53 seconds remaining. The football season came to a close with a 28-24 loss to McKinley.
Tommy Kilbane and the Wildcats kicked off first under the lights at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium and the Bulldog offense had no problem moving down the field, completing two long third downs and getting to the Wildcat 29. Junior running back Nino Hill broke loose, rumbling down to the three-yard line and scoring on the next play. McKinley took a 7-0 lead with 8:42 left in the opening quarter.
Josh Papesh started his night quickly with a 17-yard strike to Luke Simms around midfield, but the McKinley defense stood tall, forcing an incompletion on third down and bringing the punt team on.
Hill was able to move the chains once but was stopped short on a third down by Patrick Cooney and Garrett Butchko to force a punt.
It seemed to be a lost drive for Saint Ignatius after an errant snap and 17-yard loss, but a facemask penalty on Max Ritt set up a fourth down and two, which the offense stayed out for, looking to extend the drive.
Papesh had Ritt open over the middle, but linebacker Dante McClellan tipped the pass and Shaukeer Hatcher caught the ball in stride and went untouched into the end zone. The fifth pick-six by the Wildcats on the year would give McKinley a 14-0 lead with 36 tics on the first quarter clock.
On the ensuing offensive drive, yet another face mask penalty was called, this time on a sack, which gave the Wildcats a fresh set of downs and a feat of strength by Leo Rick and Patrick Mattimore, where they pushed a pile of Bulldogs trying to tackle Grant Washington for 14 yards, moved the chains again as the first quarter came to a close.
A Papesh scramble to the 17 and a Washington first down run put the ball at the 10-yard line, but the drive stalled there and Kilbane knocked in the 27-yard attempt, putting Saint Ignatius on the board.
The Bulldog offense showed more firepower, with senior quarterback Keaton Rode hitting Keith Quincy and McClellan for gains of 18 and 33, bringing the ball to the Wildcat 14. Rode threw for the endzone, looking for DJ Britt, but Cody Haddad elevated and intercepted his pass in the end zone, his fourth pick in four games.
Papesh was dropped in the backfield on third down of the ensuing drive, forcing another punt. It didn’t take long for Rode to strike again, a 38-yard bomb to his favorite target Quincy, making it a 21-3 ballgame with 1:07 to go in the second quarter.
With limited time in the half, Papesh and the offense ran an effective two-minute warning. First, the signal caller scrambled across midfield, then hitting Haddad for nine yards, then Washington for seven more. From the McKinley 33, Papesh unleashed deep for Haddad, who came down with the ball in the end zone after a Herculean effort, making the score 21-10 at the break.
Both teams went three-and-out on their first drives of the new half, highlighted by sacks, with Braylon Minor getting to Papesh and Greg Hanson and Jayshon Thomas combining to sit Rode down.
Things looked promising when Papesh hit a wide-open Washington on a wheel route, but 35 yards down the field, Hatcher forced the ball out from the junior and the Pups recovered, killing drive’s momentum.
Once again, defensive coordinator Dave Cicetti’s crew stepped up, as a Jonathan Merimee sack on third down brought Quincy out to punt.
The offense started moving down the field at a pace not seen yet this season, with Papesh hitting Merimee for 13, Jordon Rodman breaking a catch and run for 45 yards and a pass interference moving the ball to the home side’s 17-yard line. On third down, Merimee snuck past the free safety and Papesh found him in the middle of the end zone, making it a one-score ballgame with 2:27 to go in the third quarter.
The defensive line picked up right where they left off, with Butchko and junior Colin Southworth combining for a sack and eventually forcing a punt by stopping Hill for a short gain.
Papesh once again connected with Washington on the wheel route and he shook tacklers down to the 16-yard line. On the next play, Papesh threw a perfect fade ball, which Merimee plucked out of the air, giving him his second house call of the quarter and giving Saint Ignatius their first lead of the night at 24-21 with 32 seconds remaining in the third.
McKinley found some of their first-half offense with an acrobatic McClellan catch, moving them to the 24 of the Wildcats, but Butchko and sophomore Ryan Taylor combined to drop Rode back at the 36 and the Bulldogs punted again.
The Wildcats moved down the field slowly, with a strike to Merimee on third down, getting them to the 24. On third and short, Washington was stopped a yard from the line to gain and coach Franzinger decided to keep the offense on the field. From their own 33, the Wildcats tried a QB sneak but were stopped short and turned the ball over.
Rode could not connect on first or second down and Thomas dropped Britt for a short gain on third, setting up a fourth and long where Rode fired a laser to Quincy for 16 yards down to the Wildcat 15-yard line.
On second and goal at the eight-yard line, Rode found Quincy over the middle of the field at the eight. Quincy made his move towards the endzone and was met by Thomas and Ryan Roche, who leveled him. The ball was knocked loose and luckily for the Bulldogs, receiver Alex Vazquez fell on the ball in the endzone for the game-winning score with 53 left in regulation.
Papesh and the offense moved the ball admirably down the field, with passes to Sims for 16, Marcus Tekancic for 10, Haddad for 10, moved the ball to the McKinley 31 with five seconds on the clock. With one more chance, Papesh heaved a hail-mary pass, but Quincy picked it off in the end zone. Merimee and Haddad were in the area, but Quincy won the fight for the ball, officially ending the 2023 football season for the Wildcats.
The Bulldogs earned their first win against Saint Ignatius since the 2001 season and advance to the Regional Semifinal to play St. Edward at Byers Field.
Papesh played his heart out in the season finale as he threw for 310 yards on 22-of-32 passing and threw for three touchdowns. His favorite target was Merimee, who caught six passes for 84 yards and scored twice.