By Mr. Eddie Dwyer, Copyright Credit October 2016
THEY'RE COUNTING DOWN THE DAYS, HOURS, MINUTES AND SECONDS ON THE ARCHBISHOP MOELLER ATHLETIC WEBSITE BEFORE THE CATS AND THE CRUSADERS MEET ON FRIDAY AT 7 PM IN OTTERBEIN UNIVERSITY'S MEMORIAL STADIUM.
Cleveland, Ohio - In facing each other for the first time since a regular-season encounter in 1995, Saint Ignatius and Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller decided in 2014 to renew their relatively short, but still storied rivalry, by meeting at a neutral site, or halfway in terms of travel.
In both 2014 and 2015, the Wildcats and the Fighting Crusaders agreed to take a Week 8 matchup to Dublin Coffman Stadium, which was a great host. Saint Ignatius prevailed in 2014, 34-20, and last season Archbishop Moeller won for the first time in six gridiron meetings with the Wildcats, 55-52.
When we refer to the Saint Ignatius-Archbishop Moeller football rivalry as short but storied, it is because the first two meetings between the Cats and the Crusaders took place in the 1989 and 1993 Division I OHSAA State Championship Games.
Saint Ignatius won the second and fifth of its record 11 OHSAA big school state football titles by defeating Archbishop Moeller in both of the state championship matchups, 34-28 in the Joe Pickens-Adam Hyzdu shootout at Ohio Stadium in Columbus in 1989, and 38-20 at Massillon's Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in 1993. Those state championship victories over the Crusaders also resulted in the first two of the Wildcats' three National Titles. The third national crown came in 1995.
Coach Chuck Kyle's Cats also defeated "Big Moe" in two regular-season encounters, 1994 and 1995.
So, if you are the "Men of Moeller," you can't help but call on last year's only victory over Saint Ignatius in Varsity Football and shake your head at how familiar the circumstances will be for both teams on Friday night.
As was the case during Week 8 at Dublin Coffman Stadium last Autumn, Archbishop Moeller takes a record of 3-4 into Friday's neutral-site game versus 6-1 Saint Ignatius, as two names synonymous with Ohio High School Football are looking to stay in the race for a spot in November's OHSAA Division 1 Regional Playoffs.
The kickoff from Memorial Stadium at Otterbein University is 7 PM for two tradition-rich programs who have combined for 20 state football championships and 8 national titles on the gridiron. The Wildcats were also National Runners-Up in 2008.
In this week's OHSAA and Joe Eitel computer playoff ratings, Saint Ignatius was sitting in the eighth spot in Region 1 and Moeller was ninth in Region 4. Under the OHSAA Harbin Computer Playoff System, the top eight teams in each of the state's regions at the end of the regular season (Oct. 29) qualify for the playoffs.
Although the Fighting Crusaders rallied and then turned the Cats away in last season's three-point thriller, neither team qualified for the 2015 OHSAA playoffs. In that offensive battle last year, Moeller ran off 21 points in the final four minutes of the second quarter and closed to 38-35 by halftime.
In a second half that saw both offenses land haymakers, the Crusaders would prevail on two fourth-quarter field goals by Michigan State recruit Matt Coghlin (correct), including the game-winner with 10 seconds remaining.
Archbishop Moeller will be looking to snap a three-game losing streak on Friday night - 21-14 to St. Xavier, 55-14 to La Salle and 30-28 to Elder. Saint Ignatius will take the field having won three in a row.
In the overwhelming loss to La Salle, the Crusaders yielded 402 yards of offense, including 388 through the air. Yes, it's no secret around the Queen City that Archbishop Moeller's defensive secondary has been a bit shaky.
BY THE NUMBERS: Crusaders quarterback Evan Ernst has completed 92 of 159 passes for 1,045 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has also rushed for 163 yards and three TDs on 59 carries.
Junior running back Cole Thurman has carried the ball 123 times for 567 yards and four touchdowns, and has hauled in 11 passes for 46 yards and a TD. Thurman played a major role in the Crusaders' victory over the Wildcats last season, as his second-effort running helped set up the Coghlin (correct) game winner. Cole finished with 73 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Archbishop Moeller's other offensive weapons include Eric Wills (21 receptions for 275 yards and a touchdown), tight end and Michigan State recruit Matt Dotson (10 receptions for 186 yards and three TDs), and receiver R.J. Khayo (32 receptions for 402 yards and three touchdowns, and a 98-yard kickoff return).
CAT CLAWS: Saint Ignatius enters Memorial Stadium having outscored its first seven opponents by a combined score of 277-52. The Cats have won the first quarter by a combined margin of 94-7.
Coach Kyle's team has outrushed the opposition,1,726 yards to 448 yards and has won the passing yards battle through seven games, 899 to 479.
Saint Ignatius' dynamic 1-2 punch of senior tailback Jimmy Andrews (508 yards and 6 TDs on 73 carries) and junior tailback Mark Bobinski (504 yards and 11 TDs on 81 carries) have keyed the Wildcats' offense. They operate behind one of the biggest and best offensive lines Ohio has to offer.
Senior quarterback Patrick Ryan has completed 61 of 102 passes for 773 yards and 5 touchdowns, and has rushed for 226 yards and 3 TDs. Senior wide receiver Travis Pot has 13 receptions for 202 yards and a touchdown, and he also scored a key touchdown off a reverse in last weekend's 34-17 victory at GlenOak.
Junior wide receiver Connor Kennedy has turned seven receptions into 133 yards and two touchdowns, and senior tight end James Leyden, who is also an outstanding linebacker, has 10 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Saint Ignatius is led by its big game-tested veteran front of linemen and linebackers. Showing the way are senior defensive end Mike Chime (28 tackles, including 12.5 for -minus 45 yards) and senior linebacker/captain Adam Shibley with 26 stops that include 7.5 tackles for -minus 32 yards. Keep in mind that in three of the Cats' seven games the starters didn't play a full two quarters.
The Wildcats' kicking/punting game is highly respected around Northeast Ohio, as junior Matthew Trickett, who doubles as a defensive standout for Coach Mike McLaughlin's record seven-time state champion Soccer Program, is 6-for-8 on his field goals with a long of 43 yards. Senior Colin Goodfellow, an All-Ohio honoree last season, has consistently boomed his kickoffs deep into the end zone and has punted seven times for a 43-yard average.
FROM COACH KYLE: "When you picture Moeller, Xavier and Elder, they're tough Catholic School programs with tradition. That's a given. So they're always intense games.
"When you look at the scores, I think what shocked a lot of people all over the state was that Cincinnati La Salle put up big numbers on Moeller. La Salle hit some big passes and they certainly have athletes. Looking at the film, there were a couple of La Salle receivers who were really outstanding and were able to break it and go. That put Moeller behind early and it kind of snowballed a little bit.
"As they look at us, we've been running the ball really well and what are they going to try to take away? Maybe they'll try to take away the running game, but now they have to be concerned about the passing. We've been working on the passing game and we have confidence that if that's what we're given, we'll go after it. But we'll see what they decide to do.
"Here we are at the eighth game and all along we've strived to be balanced. The teams we have left (Moeller, St. Xavier and St. Edward) are physical teams that will certainly be ready to handle the run. If we can execute it, great. But if not, I'm pretty confident that we can throw."
COACH KYLE ON HIS DEFENSIVE MEN UP FRONT: "Coming into the year, as we talked about, we're pretty experienced there with Joe Gibbons, Pat Viancourt, Mike Czaja and Mike Chime, those guys played a lot last year. They just got stronger and their technique has gotten better.
"We've asked a lot from them this year and we'll continue to do that. Look at the statistics, they've been very good. Mike Czaja has some height (6-foot-4), but the other guys are about six-foot, six-foot-one. But they're strong and have good technique, and that's what wins today and allows the linebackers to run pretty free."
SIBN!: If you can't make it down to Otterbein University on Friday night, senior Brendan DeVenney and junior Matt MacKenzie will bring it to you live over the Saint Ignatius Broadcast Network.
We'll see you at Wasmer Field tonight for the Freshmen Blue Football Game versus the Bedford Bearcats at 6 bells, Thursday night on the pitch at Wasmer Field for the JV and Varsity Soccer matches versus Twinsburg, and Friday night at Otterbein University's Memorial Stadium.
Have a safe and great week and weekend, and All of the Best to the Cleveland Indians, aka my Fighting Franconas, who I know are giving my late father, Jim, plenty to smile about from the best seat anyone could hope for.