By Mr. Eddie Dwyer, Copyright Credit October 2016
From Tom Ballaban Field in St. Xavier Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio - The Varsity Football Wildcats of Hall of Fame Head Coach Chuck Kyle '69 had too much strength, skill and savvy on both sides of the ball Saturday afternoon on Tom Ballaban Field, as they defused the Bombers of St. Xavier early and often, 31-14, under the perfect blue-gray October skies that hovered over the spacious campus of St. Xavier High School.
In winning its fifth consecutive game and maintaining possession of the Jesuit School rivalry's Cannon Bell, Saint Ignatius improved to 8-1 and strengthened its position for what would be a 27th OHSAA Division I playoff appearance since the Wildcats' amazing run of a record 11 big-school state football championships began in 1988.
According to the latest computer playoff ratings by playoff guru Joe Eitel, Saint Ignatius stands seventh in Region 1 and "controls its own destiny." The top eight teams in each of the state's regions at the end of the regular season (October 29) qualify for the annual OHSAA playoffs, which begin for Division I on November 4.
A first-round home game is awarded to the top four teams in the regions and the Football Cats could possibly earn that distinction if they defeat longtime West Side rival S. Edward in next Saturday's regular season finale at the Browns' FirstEnergy Stadium. The kickoff will be 6 PM
The St. Edward Eagles of Coach Tom Lombardo, who have been near or at the top of Region 1 for a good portion of the season, also spent their Saturday in the Queen City as they improved to 7-1 by edging the Crusaders of Archbishop Moeller on a field goal in the final seconds, 24-21. Two-time defending Division I state champ St. Edward will enter the October 29 regular season wrapup versus the Wildcats having already clinched a playoff spot in Region 1.
Although the Eagles have won their past two meetings with the Cats, Saint Ignatius still leads the storied series, 28-24-1.
As for Saturday's 23rd meeting in the annual Jesuit showdown between the now 4-5 Bombers and the Wildcats, Saint Ignatius took command with a 21-point second quarter.
The Wildcats, whose second consecutive victory over the Bombers tightened the all-time series to 12-11 in favor of St. Xavier, got an outstanding performance on both sides of the ball from senior tight end/linebacker James Leyden.
Leyden, whose 62-yard, second - and third-effort catch and run down the visiting sideline of Ballaban Field for a touchdown not only was the offensive play of the game, but is sure to find its way to Saint Ignatius' 2016 season highlight video come January.
Leyden's big-time play and the ensuing extra-point kick by junior Matthew Trickett, which came with 3 minutes and 54 seconds remaining in the first half, extended the Wildcats' lead to 24-0 and seemed to take some of the fire out of the Bombers' faithful.
"Pre snap, I saw the linebacker was staying in so I went in the flat, Pat (Ryan) hit me and I turned up field," Leyden said of a play that drew a roar from the Wildcats' faithful. "I saw an open space, there was a little bit of a scrum and somehow I broke through. I'm not really sure what happened and then I just ran the rest of the way.
"Our defense, we're very confident right now," Leyden continued. "We think we can stop anyone in the state and that's how we're going to play every snap, that we can stop them. We have confidence in our offense, too, that we're going to control the clock. It's gets tougher and tougher each week, but it's a challenge and I love it."
Coach Kyle's Cats racked up 240 of their 386 total offensive yards in the first half, which ended with Saint Ignatius leading, 24-7. St. Xavier got on the board off a 1-yard keeper by its promising junior quarterback Chase Wolf with 19 seconds left before halftime.
The Wildcats' staff was treated to several outstanding efforts on both sides of the ball, including 225 yards and three TDs through the air by senior quarterback Patrick Ryan. Patrick was 8-of-13 passing and, along with the memorable play to Leyden, he threw a touchdown strike of 48 yards into the sure hands of senior wide receiver Mike Lehto on the first play of the second quarter and fired an in-stride, 47-yard scoring pass to multi-skilled junior wide receiver/defensive back Connor Kennedy in the fourth quarter.
Another Ryan-to-Kennedy pass set up a 7-yard touchdown run by hard-nosed and talented junior tailback Mark Bobinski in the second quarter.
Trickett, who opened the scoring with a 32-yard field goal in the first quarter, was also 4-for-4 on his extra points. Matt doubles as defensive mainstay for Coach Mike McLaughlin's state and nationally acclaimed soccer program.
Saint Ignatius' defense continued to show why it is among the best units Ohio has to offer, as the defensive front of senior linemen Mike Chime, Joe Gibbons, Mike Czaja and Patrick Viancourt, and senior linebackers Leyden, Johnny Velotta and Adam Shibley, were a nightmare for the St. Xavier offensive line.
The Cats' underrated secondary was also flying to the ball all afternoon and came up with highlight-reel interceptions from senior cornerback Alex Ringfield and Kennedy, with Kennedy's pick coming in the end zone and deflating any comeback aspirations that Wolf and Company had in mind.
Wolf did throw a 26-yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining in the game and accounted for 208 yards, 178 passing.
Ryan and Saint Ignatius' 1-2 running punch of senior tailback Jimmy Andrews and Bobinski will be the first to tell you that they operate behind a big and special offensive line that is anchored by All-Ohio senior center and East Carolina recruit John Spellacy, and heavily recruited 6-foot-6, 315-pound junior left tackle Darian Kinnard.
Speaking of Jimmy Andrews, who is as special a young man and teammate that any team or coach could hope for, Jimmy suffered broken bones in his left arm in the fourth quarter, an injury, according to late Saturday night reports, that will require surgery. We ask that you keep Jimmy in your prayers.
"Jimmy has been a tough runner since his sophomore year," said Leyden, who knows more than just a little bit about being tough on the gridiron. "Now that Jimmy is out, someone is going to have to step up and take his reps. We're going to do this for Jimmy now, the rest of the way. He deserves it and I think we're confident we can win. Maybe he can come back, we'll see."
FROM COACH KYLE: "We threw to him in the flat to get a first down and then he took it from there," Coach Kyle said of Leyden's exceptional effort. "It was an unbelievable play, he kept fighting, I'm very proud of him because he realized he was a key guy in what we were doing."
After congratulating St. Xavier's standout junior kick returner Cameron Specht, the son of Coach Kyle's friend and colleague Steve Specht, the Bombers' highly successful head coach, Chuck turned his attention to Patrick Ryan.
"Pat Ryan did an awesome job," said the man who has also guided his Wildcats to three national titles (1989, 1993 and 1995) and a national runner-up (2008). "They (the Bombers) always have a tough defense with their coverage and blitzes. They can unnerve the best of quarterbacks and Pat was just fine today. He kept his composure, took off and got some great runs. He was a major weapon today and that's great to see."