Speedy players fill both the Saint Ignatius and Archbishop Hoban rosters, but it was the big fellas up front that decided the 2018 season opener.
The Knights’ offensive and defensive lines won the day, and in turn, Archbishop Hoban captured a 21-14 win over the host Saint Ignatius Wildcats to start the season.
With the wind swirling and impacting strategy on Saturday at Byers Field in the first half, the Knights turned to the ground game in the second half. The strategy worked, as Hoban possessed the ball for 12:08 of the first 13:41 of the second half, scoring two touchdowns along the way.
The Wildcats battled until the end, narrowing the gap from 21-14 in the fourth quarter, but Hoban’s dominant stretch clinched a season-opening win for the Knights. The defeat marks the first loss in an opener since 2013. The loss is the Wildcats’ first at Byers Field since November 14, 2014, ending a streak of 17 consecutive home wins.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle ’69. “That is a nationally ranked team. They have plenty of Division I [prospects], that’s for sure. We were very inconsistent on offense, and that hurt us. The defense was out there too long. We had to make a play on offense to give them time to settle down a little bit and we didn’t, and that’s a shame. Overall, the defense did a good job. They broke a couple things because you’re trying to stuff them to make a big play, and we missed them and the great running back they have broke away.”
As Coach Kyle mentioned, the Wildcats did well on defense. The team held a talented Hoban offense to 113 yards overall in the first half, including just 26 yards on the ground.
The first drives by both teams almost featured long plays. The Wildcats nearly connected on a playaction fake, and the Knights had a man open on a deep pass off a fake jet sweep. Another promising play for the Knights was called back for a holding, and Jett Elad ended a pair of plays with perfect tackles.
The Knights drove into field goal range on the first drive, but Danny Scelza and other Cats sprinted in to block the field goal. The brilliant play placed the Wildcats at the Knights’ 42-yard line. The Football Cats could not take advantage of the opportunity, however, forcing a Pat Otter punt. The senior’s big foot hemmed in Hoban at its 16-yard line at the 7:02 mark of the first.
Looking to establish the run early on, the Knights handed the ball off on a few plays, but the Wildcats were ready. Tommy Eichenberg and the defensive line forced a stop, though Hoban booted a 59-yard punt to flip the field. The teams then exchanged punts, with Hoban enjoying the field position advantage, due to a stiff wind blowing into the Shoppes of Parma end zone.
The first big play of the game occurred with just over two minutes left in the first quarter. Patrick Delahunty found Nigel Drummond II in the flat, and the senior wideout worked his magic. Drummond evaded a would-be tackler and galloped 59 yards to place the Wildcats deep in Knights territory.
Due to a fierce Hoban pass rush pushing the Wildcats back, the hosts could not take advantage of the opportunity. The Knights blocked a would-be 48-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in the quarter.
On Hoban’s next drive, starting in the first quarter and moving into the second, the Knights gradually picked up yards. Hoban struck first blood with 9:31 in the second, as Jordan Mick found Matt Blanchard in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown. The extra point was good, setting the score at 7-0.
The Wildcats and Knights then traded punts. With six minutes left in the half, a 16-yard screen pass to Jack Welcsh invigorated the Football Cats. Delahunty and Luke Cooper then connected for a critical third down pickup of 19 yards. Two plays later, Welcsh rammed the ball into the end zone for six. Rory McConville’s extra point rang true, tying the contest at seven with 3:14 left in the half.
Both teams had chances to break the tie before halftime, but neither team could do much, as dark clouds lingered over Byers Field.
Several members of the Saint Ignatius defense starred in the first half of the opener. Most notably, cornerback Jett Elad and linebacker Tommy Eichenberg shined tonight. Elad and Eichenberg finished with 10 and 8 tackles, respectively, along with a combined 4 tackles for loss.
“They kept running double tight and heavy [formations], so I just came from the outside and blitzed in and got extremely close to the running back and dove for his knees,” Elad said. “In the first half, we played great defense. We had a couple mess-ups with deep balls, because we weren’t staying in our zones, but we covered that.”
To start the second half, the Knights decided to pound the ball using 3-back sets. Mixing in playaction passes to Caden Clark, Hoban’s offense started to gain traction and gradually move down the field. Hoban finished off the drive with an off-tackle run for 21 yards and six points by Deamonte Trayanum. Jacob Branham’s extra point set the score at 14-7 after the lengthy drive.
The Wildcats’ offense could not gain any traction, giving Hoban the ball back. The Knights kept pounding the ball, gaining yards and draining the clock. The third quarter ended with Hoban in possession of the ball and marching down the field.
Early in the fourth quarter, on a critical 4th and 1 play, the Knights dialed up an outside run. The surprise call worked to perfection, with Trayanum finding space on the outside and rolling 43 yards to the end zone. The extra point stretched Hoban’s advantage to 14 points, 21-7.
Spurred into action, the Wildcats offense came alive on the following drive. Connor Cmiel and Luke Cooper caught bullet passes from Griffin Hanna, forcing a Hoban timeout to regroup. Following the break, the Wildcats’ offense stalled with 8:40 left, forcing an Otter punt.
A key break went to the Wildcats on the punt. A Hoban player accidentally touched the punt, and the Wildcats dove to grab it. A Saint Ignatius player emerged from the dog pile with the ball at the 27-yard line, a much-needed turnover for the hosts.
The Knights stood strong, however. Hoban blitzed and notched back-to-back sacks, preventing the Wildcats from taking advantage of the fortunate turnover.
The Wildcats’ defense stepped up to force a Hoban punt, giving the Wildcats’ offense a chance to work, albeit deep in its own territory with 5:30 remaining. Connor Cmiel caught four passes in a row from Delahunty to march down the field and breathe fresh life into the Wildcats’ hopes.
“We were going to get some one-on-ones on some of their outside receivers. We figured Connor can do a good job,” Coach Kyle said. “If they’re going to take away the deep ball, we can take the 8-9 yard pass, keep the ball moving. Then we got setup and got a longer pass. Connor is a very good receiver. You have to go to him when he’s one-on-one, but we were down 21-7. The passing game wasn’t contributing in the first half, and did a little more in the second half.”
Following the plethora of Delahunty-to-Cmiel connections, the Wildcats completed the drive with 4:19 left. Delahunty dashed to paydirt on 9-yard scramble up the middle for six. McConville tacked on the extra point to narrow the deficit to 21-14.
“The corners were playing up, so we tried to get some quick routes so we could get the ball up the field,” said Cmiel, who finished with 6 receptions for 91 yards. “We hadn’t been throwing the ball well all game, but we just clicked right there on that drive, we looked really good. We just have to put that together for a full game, and we’ll be really good.”
On the ensuing drive, the Knights continued to pound the ball. The Wildcats loaded up the box, but Hoban’s varied formations and strong line play helped the visitors to keep picking up first downs.
The Wildcats did get the ball back with a few ticks left on the clock, but not enough time to complete the comeback.
“Look, it’s the first game and we’re playing major, playoff caliber teams,” said Kyle. “Right now, we have to learn from it. Looking at our schedule, let’s go and win more than our fair share, and we’re fine. There were a lot of kids out there tonight who didn’t have much experience last year. Our schedule didn’t allow it to play them too much, with all of the nailbiters last year. They’re going to become veterans, and that will help a lot.”
The Wildcats return to the field next Saturday. The Mentor Cardinals will visit Byers Field for Northeast Ohio’s annual premier public-private rivalry.