By Mr. Eddie Dwyer, Copyright Credit September 2016
Cleveland, Oho - Playing almost as perfect as the first evening of Autumn in Ohio City, Coach Rodney Gallaway's tough and talented Freshmen Football Wildcats struck early and often Thursday night in wearing down their ninth-grade Jesuit brothers from Walsh Jesuit on Wasmer Field.
The Freshmen 'Cats, who improved to 4-1, scored on their first possession and it was Katy Bar the Door from that point on, as the gifted and tough-minded young Wildcats dominated their way to a 34-0 victory that saw the OHSAA deficit rule come into play with 7 minutes and 9 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
After forcing a punt, Saint Ignatius, which had great field position for most of the evening, got a strong return from multi-skilled wide receiver/defensive back Connor Cmiel and took possession at its 47-yard line.
Two plays later, running back/linebacker Jack Welcsh powered his way over the left side and, in an exceptional display of balance and vision, galloped 50 yards down the left sideline and into the Lorain Avenue end zone. Rory McConville sent the extra-point kick through the uprights and the 'Cats led, 7-0, with 6:27 left in the opening quarter.
Following another Walsh Jesuit punt, Saint Ignatius covered 80 yards in five plays that featured four consecutive carries by Welcsh and a picture-perfect 59-yard touchdown pass from oh so promising quarterback Nick Fletcher to sure-handed wide receiver Erik Daugenti. McConville's extra-point was true and Coach Gallaway's 'Cats were up 14 points with 1:39 to go in the first quarter.
In what was an impressive throw for a quarterback at any level, let alone a freshman in high school, Fletcher's kiss the sky in stride pass down the right or home sideline of Wasmer Field landed in Daugenti's hands as Erik was striding into the Wasmer Field end zone. Wildcats veteran Varsity Offensive Coordinator Nick Restifo , who was watching from the home sideline, described it as a "great pass." High praise from a man that has produced 16 quarterbacks who have earned All-State recognition.
Just moments after the Fletcher to Daugenti crowd pleaser, the 'Cats' defense, keyed by ever-present linebackers Mac Boyle and Connor Francz, forced the Warriors to punt from the scoreboard end zone of Wasmer Field.
After another impressive and elusive punt return by Cmiel to the Wash Jesuit 5-yard line, Saint Ignatius' offensive line, which was authoritative from the get-go, kicked open Katy's door again and Welcsh followed the lead with a 5-yard TD run over the left side. The extra-point attempt was blocked and the Cats led, 20-0, with 7:57 remaining in the first half.
Walsh Jesuit, behind the gutsy play of Adam Salek, moved for a first down at the Saint Ignatius 44-yard line, only to watch the Wildcats' defense step up again.
On a second-and-11 from the Saint Ignatius 45, Wildcats defensive lineman Jake Lang, reading the play all of the way, dropped into coverage, intercepted the pass inside the Saint Ignatius 43 and rambled down the sideline and into the end zone for a touchdown that seemed to demoralize the Warriors.
Leading 27-0 at halftime, the 'Cats put the running clock into play off a strong second-effort 2-yard touchdown run by Welch and another PAT by McConville.
In what was a display of class, Coach Gallaway and Wildcats Offensive Coordinator Mark Ruddy '90, a former Saint Ignatius football great, elected to have their offense end the game by kneeling down and running out the clock at the Walsh Jesuit 14-yard line. The 'Cats marched to the Warriors' 14 behind some strong running by James Crosby and Tyler Hampu.
Congratulations go out to veteran Defensive Coordinator Tony Antonelli, who while he was directing another impressive effort by the 'Cats' Freshmen D, received a picture of his newest grandchild, who was born in Columbus to his son Joe and Joe's wife Danielle. That makes three grandchildren for the defensive guru, the man who helped develop some of the greatest defenses in Saint Ignatius history during the Wildcats' state and national championship runs of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
UP NEXT: The Freshman 'Cats will play host to the Trojans from Erie (Pa.) McDowell on September 29 at 5:30 PM on Wasmer Field.
FROM COACH GALLAWAY: "I told the guys right at the beginning, if we execute at the level that we're capable of, not many teams can stay with us. The times we have been in close games we're doing things to hurt ourselves, it's not really what the other team is doing.
"Come out and execute, that's what we did tonight," Coach Gallaway continued. "I thought we looked sharp. Everybody stepped up and played well."
Coach Gallaway shared with the corner that Walsh Jesuit's coaches said they couldn't find a way to block Mac Boyle. Remember the name, my friends.