By Mr. Eddie Dwyer, Copyright Credit September 2016
Cleveland, Ohio - As was the case last season, the Walsh Jesuit Warriors will enter Friday night's matchup with Saint Ignatius carrying a record of 1-3 and trying to salvage their season.
Last year, the Warriors, a unanimous underdog by the media, left it all on the Byers Field turf in Parma's Robert M. Boulton Stadium before the Wildcats, with 53 seconds remaining to be played, drove 80 yards and scored on a 38-yard touchdown pass from All-Ohio quarterback Dennis Grosel '16 to gifted wide receiver/long snapper Jimmy Berger '16 with 8 ticks left on the clock. Matthew Trickett '18 added a high and true extra-point kick and the 'Cats' defense took care of the final eight seconds - Saint Ignatius 30, Walsh Jesuit 27 in what was the 10th meeting on the gridiron between the highly respected Jesuit Schools.
For some of the Warriors' faithful, Friday night's 7 PM kickoff against the 3-1 Wildcats in Walsh Jesuit's Conway Memorial Stadium has an all-too familiar feeling to it.
Last season, Walsh Jesuit picked up its first victory the week prior to playing Saint Ignatius, defeating St. Francis in Athol Springs, N.Y. And guess what? The Warriors won their first game in four outings this season by defeating none other than St. Francis, 23-21, in Conway Memorial Stadium last weekend.
A young and inexperienced team, Walsh Jesuit enters Friday night's 11th meeting with Saint Ignatius having faced the injuries and tough luck that usually accompany a 1-3 start The Wildcats, ranked ninth in the Associated Press Division I State Poll, are 6-4 all-time versus the Warriors in football, including a 4-0 mark under Hall of Fame Head Coach Chuck Kyle '69.
The Warriors lost three tough and competitive road games this season, 10-3 at St. Vincent-St. Mary, 29-20 at Toledo Whitmer and 27-14 at Columbus Bishop Watterson.
Trailing, 20-0, at halftime versus Bishop Watterson, Walsh Jesuit got some strong second-half efforts from special teams player Tony Cummings, running back Joshua Bennett, quarterback Alex Weitman and wide receiver Steve Walco in making the game competitive. A learning experience, if you will.
As for Saint Ignatius, the Wildcats dominated their first three opponents - Normandy, Mentor and Valley Forge - and then ran into a very capable and undefeated Detroit Catholic Central team in Novi, Michigan last weekend. The Shamrocks, taking advantage of five turnovers, defeated the 'Cats in overtime, 28-21.
The turnovers and a tough penalty down the stretch of the fourth quarter played major roles, but believe this old-timer when I tell you that Catholic Central is a solid program. The Wildcats need no one to remind them that they have to take care of business for the remaining six weeks of the regular season.
THE ONE NO ONE FORGETS: In what was the last game played on natural grass in then legendary Canton Fawcett Stadium, Eric Haddad '94, the greatest running back in Saint Ignatius' rich football history, scored five touchdowns on the rain-drenched and muddy Fawcett Stadium field as the 'Cats defeated Walsh Jesuit, 34-0, in a 1993 State Semifinal matchup. The '93 Wildcats went on to win the fifth of Saint Ignatius' record 11 state football championships and the second of Coach Kyle's three national championships.
AIR WAVES: If you can't make it out to Walsh Jesuit on Friday night, senior Brendan DeVenney and junior Matt MacKenzie will do their best Jimmy Donovan and Doug Dieken over the Saint Ignatius Broadcast Network.
FROM COACH KYLE ON THE 2016 WALSH JESUIT WARRIORS: "There is some youth out there, they had a few injuries early and their younger kids had to step in," Coach Kyle said of Walsh Jesuit as he was running his Wildcats through Tuesday's practice.
"Last week (versus) St. Francis, they did a nice job," Coach Kyle continued. "You can see the progress they've made each week, especially on their defense. In the beginning they were a little vanilla, but now you can see the coverage is changing and the blitzes are changing. So they're progressing. That's what we're seeing.
Coach Kyle emphasized that offensively, the Warriors are doing a little more option and that his Wildcats have to take care of their option responsibilities.
"They use the dive option and try to pitch it and go," said Coach Kyle. "They'll do a nice job with their power play, where they pull the backside guard. They've always been good at that. I think they would like to control the ball, they have some guys going both ways. Like last year, when they wanted to keep our offense on the sideline.
"We're playing down there, so we have to play better in enemy territory than we did last week, I hope."
We'll see you at Wasmer Field tomorrow (Thursday) evening when the Walsh Jesuit Freshmen pay a visit to Ohio City to take on Coach Rodney Gallaway's gifted ninth-grade Wildcats. The kickoff is at 6 bells.
And on a personal note, thank you to those who have expressed their prayers for my brother, Jim, a proud graduate of Saint Ignatius High School.