By Mr. Eddie Dwyer, Copyright Credit November 2016
For the first time since 2005, it's for real.
Saint Ignatius and Solon, who have combined for 48 OHSAA playoff appearances, are gearing up for their sixth meeting on the gridiron that, just like the previous five, will take place on the Regional Playoff level.
Cleveland, Ohio - It was back on August 9th that the Solon Comets paid a visit to Saint Ignatius' Wasmer Field for what has become a traditional preseason football scrimmage between two of the area's premier programs.
Now, even the novice football fan realizes that scrimmages are for honing the skills of the veteran players and taking a long and serious look at the young new faces.
That said, Saint Ignatius' Hall of Fame Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle '69 and his savvy staff were definitely pleased that warm summer morning in Ohio City with what they saw out of their promising 2016 Wildcats.
And that promise has come to fruition for both the Cats and Head Coach Jim McQuaide's Comets, as now three months later they are preparing to meet in a Division I, Region 1 Semifinal.
Saint Ignatius, ranked fourth in the final 2016 Associated Press Division I State Poll, will take a 10-1 record and a seven-game winning streak into Friday night's "this time it's for real" matchup with Solon, which is also 10-1 and riding an eight-game winning streak. The Comets, champions of the Greater Cleveland Conference, were ranked sixth in Ohio by the AP.
The kickoff in Mentor High School's football-rich Jerome T. Osborne Sr. Stadium will be 7:30 PM. Saint Ignatius and Solon are both quite familiar with Osborne Sr. Stadium, so you can throw that advantage or excuse out the window.
As we reported in the corner's playoff site story on Sunday, the Wildcats hold a 3-2 series lead over the Comets.
Solon's biggest victory over Saint Ignatius, arguably in any sport, took place in 2000 when the Football Comets ended the Wildcats' nine-year Region 1 reign, 31-13. Solon went on to finish as the Division I State Runner-Up that season, losing to Upper Arlington in the Title Game.
Yes, as hard as it is to accept when you get old, those previous five gridiron postseason meetings between Saint Ignatius and Solon took place more than a decade ago.
Solon is in the OHSAA playoffs for the 21st time, including 12 appearances under Coach McQuaide. The Comets qualified for their fourth consecutive trip to the OHSAA's postseason after finishing No. 1 in the final Region 1 Harbin Computer Rankings.
Saint Ignatius, which finished fourth in the Region 1 Rankings, is making its 27th Division I OHSAA playoff appearance and looking to add to its record 11 big-school State Football Championships under Coach Kyle, who took over the reins of his alma mater's Varsity Football Program in 1983.
Coach Kyle has also guided Saint Ignatius to three National Championships (1989, 1993 and 1995), a National Runner-Up in 2008 and a State Runner-Up in 1996. The Cats ran off an incredible five consecutive Division I State Football Championships from 1991 to 1995.
The Cats qualified for Friday night's Regional Semifinal by dominating Massillon Jackson, 35-0, in last weekend's Regional Quarterfinal on Byers Field in Parma's Robert M. Boulton Stadium.
Solon, leading by just two points at halftime, went on to a 39-10 Regional Quarterfinal triumph over Canton GlenOak on the Comets' Stewart Field. Saint Ignatius and GlenOak met in regular season game in Week 7 on GlenOak's Bob Commings Field and the Cats came away with a 34-17 victory.
Solon's only setback came at home during Week 3, 13-10 to a very talented and experienced Stow team. Saint Ignatius' only blemish came in a Week 4 matchup with Detroit Catholic Central in Novi, Michigan, 28-21 in overtime.
"Offensively, their running game has done a great job," said Coach Kyle of the Comets. "There is a lot of misdirection with a wide receiver going in motion and then he runs a Jet Sweep. Then they fake off of that where the running back either gets the ball or leads the quarterback, who is a good runner. Although they spread you out, if you count it up there are three good running backs that you are actually looking at."
Friday's game will feature two of the top junior running backs in all of Northeast Ohio - Solon's Thomas Wilks and the Wildcats' Mark Bobinski. Wilks owns a six-touchdown game this season among his steady efforts and there hasn't been a more consistent big-game back in the seven-county area than "Bo-Bo" Bobinski.
Also coming on for Running Backs Coach Terry Fergus '72 in the Wildcats' ground game is big-hearted and talented senior Dean "The Dream" Stowers.
Both offenses, as Coach Kyle referred to above, have heady versatile quarterbacks who can hurt you with their arms and their legs, the Cats' Patrick Ryan and the Comets' Joe Bubonics. Joe is the son of one the finest Assistant Coaches in the state, Solon's Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach Ed Bubonics.
"Both teams played like playoff-caliber teams," said Coach Kyle in recalling the early August scrimmage.
Looking at the Comets' defense, Coach Kyle said Solon is always very, very solid.
"And that's not a cliché," said Coach Kyle. "By solid you mean they are not going to give you any gaps. They're very disciplined. When they slant, someone is covering up the other gap so it's timed up very nicely. It's always a challenge to find a running seam.
"Their secondary has great speed and is very experienced," Coach Kyle continued in referring to a Comets' pass defense that came up with five interceptions versus GlenOak, including a touchdown return by Andrew Mason.
Among some of Solon's other mainstays are the sure-handed Anthony Zavarella and Jake McCurry, and special-teams playmaker Darryl Sinclair, who returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown last week.
A LONG FRIENDSHIP IN THE COACHNG FRATERNITY: That is what Coach Kyle and Coach McQuaide have.
Coach Kyle and Coach McQuaide matched up in one of the greatest games in the history of Ohio High School Football, the 1993, 35-34 triple-overtime classic between Saint Ignatius and St. Edward in Lakewood Stadium, aka "The Madhouse on Madison," won by the eventual state and national champion Wildcats.
In 1996 at Lakewood Stadium, Coach McQuaide guided St. Edward to a 12-9 overtime victory over Saint Ignatius on what was a cold and icy night. Rodney Bailey had a big-time game for the Eagles.
"Jim is a great coach, we do a lot of work together in the Coaches Association," said Coach Kyle. "From December until June we have monthly meetings and things like that. Jim is very involved in our group in trying to make sure Football is doing the right thing in Cleveland."