Before Friday’s game, longtime Saint Ignatius head football coach Chuck Kyle ’69 told his team, “Nothing is given. You gotta make it happen.”
The Wildcats did just that in a statement 21-6 victory over the Euclid Panthers at the new Euclid Stadium on Friday evening.
The Saint Ignatius defense roared in a near-shutout performance, Jahadge “Bo” Floyd and Jack Welcsh powered through the Euclid defense to open up space for Connor Cmiel, and the Wildcats’ special teams scored six points. All in all, a complete team win for the men of Ohio City.
“We clearly felt that we had to have this game,” Kyle said. “Emotionally we needed to play a very good football team and win. If you look at the three phases of the game – offense, defense, and the kicking game, I think we played a complete game. We made some plays on special teams – our kicking kept them pinned down, we blocked a punt and scored a touchdown. Our passing game made some key plays, and you saw us running the football. In the end, they had to go one-on-one with our wide receivers because we were running the football. All of that contributed.”
The excellent effort by the Wildcats prevented the team from starting off 0-3 for the first time since 1966. The Wildcats now stand at 1-2 entering next week’s tilt.
Cmiel provided two of the key plays to make it happen. The junior reeled in two touchdown passes from quarterback Patrick Delahunty, drawing plenty of kudos from his coaches, teammates, and fans. At the end of the game, Cmiel was thankful for the victory.
“It feels good. We get a fresh start,” said Cmiel. “We get to start over and begin fresh. We still have a lot of games.”
At the start of Friday night’s game, the two offenses did not generate much momentum. The Wildcats enjoyed the better field position due to a couple of Euclid penalties and a well-executed plays by the Saint Ignatius defense. Tommy Eichenberg stood out in particular at middle linebacker, along with defensive lineman Zach McMahan.
The Wildcats had the first opportunity to score with about five minutes left in the first quarter. However, the Wildcats missed a 50-yard field goal short and wide left.
Euclid’s offense started to gain traction on the ensuing drive. Dion Valentine, evading a fierce Saint Ignatius pass rush, completed a 22-yard pass and scampered for yardage on a scramble to get things going. Brandon Wright also picked up a first down on a strong run up the middle. The drive stalled with 39 seconds left in the first quarter. Senior linebacker Caden Campolieti jumped in front of a Euclid screen pass on a great play.
Jahadge “Bo” Floyd wasted no time in taking the Wildcats down the field. On a third and short play, Floyd rumbled down the middle of the field for a 43-yard gain, setting up the Wildcats at the Euclid 8-yard line. However, a Wildcats’ fumble on the next play halted the drive.
Invigorated by the turnover, Euclid fired down the field. Valentine tossed a deep ball down the far sideline, finding Dre’Von Lindsay on an impressive pass through coverage for 24 yards. Eichenberg, Scelza, and the Wildcats’ defense stiffened after the long play, setting Euclid back 7 yards on a first down run to deflate the drive.
After the Wildcats nearly blocked the Euclid punt, Bo Floyd worked his magic again, bullying his way for 34 yards with 8:30 left in the second. A pass interference and a personal foul on Euclid sent the Wildcats into the red zone.
On 3rd down from the Euclid 17-yard line, the Wildcats’ coaching staff called a run-pass option. Delahunty read the play perfectly. Seeing a stiff blitz, the senior signalcaller faked the run and passed it to a wide-open Connor Cmiel on a slant route to the middle of the field for an easy 17-yard touchdown. Rory McConville’s extra point sailed through the uprights, giving the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.
“Both safeties came down, and I got past them pretty easily,” Cmiel said of the opening score. “It was nice and easy.”
The teams traded punts, as both defenses stuffed the run effectively. The Wildcats started to drive in the final minute of the half, thanks to a third down conversion on a Luke Cooper reception and a Bo Floyd screen pass. The first half ended with a near completion at the 3-yard line, almost a beautiful Wildcats touchdown.
The Wildcats started with the ball in the second half. A perfect Euclid squib kick forced Saint Ignatius to start at its own 5-yard line, but Jack Welcsh clawed the Cats back into good field position with a 40-yard scamper up the middle.
Two plays later, the Wildcats broke loose for a huge score. Cmiel caught a bubble screen pass on the left side of the field and ran straight through the Euclid defense for a 53-yard touchdown, his second of the day. McConville converted the extra point for the 14-0 lead with 10:19 left in the third, capping off a 4-play, 95-yard drive.
“I saw the one kid who I had to make miss, and then it was a foot race to the end zone, and I beat him,” said Cmiel. “It was nice blocking by Luke Cooper.”
The Wildcats’ defense continued to dominate on the following drive. On a Euclid punt, the Wildcats finally blocked the ball after coming oh-so-close several times. Senior Danny Scelza blocked his second kick in as many weeks, sending the ball rolling towards the Euclid end zone. Mitch Puhalsky recovered the ball in the end zone for an important touchdown. The score upped the Wildcats’ advantage to 21 points after a McConville PAT.
After a Euclid punt, the Wildcats threw an interception into the arms of Damien Brown. A late hit on the Panthers neutralized their positive field position, sending Euclid back to its own 27-yard line. A special teams penalty on the Wildcats granted the Panthers a first down, but the Saint Ignatius defense stood its ground. McMahan earned a sack and the front six worked hard to force Euclid’s 8th punt of the day.
To start the fourth quarter, the Wildcats ran the ball down the gut, burning clock and wearing down the Euclid defense. A lengthy Pat Otter punt pinned the Panthers back at their own 17-yard line with 8:38 remaining. Michael McNamara and Eichenberg each made excellent plays at linebacker on Euclid’s next drive, giving the ball right back to the Wildcats.
The Cats killed some clock, but Euclid spoiled the shutout with 50 seconds remaining. Lindsey hauled in a 16-yard touchdown reception off a fourth-down fade route from backup quarterback Vincent Jackson. The extra point was blocked, setting the final score at 21-6 Wildcats.
At the end of the day, though the shutout was broken, the Wildcats’ defense has plenty to be proud of. The men of Defensive Coordinator Ryan Franzinger ’02 allowed just 170 yards on 61 plays, sacked the quarterback four times, picked off a pass, and forced Euclid to punt a whopping 10 times.
A number of players stood out on the defensive side of the ball. As always, Eichenberg led the way, tallying a game-high 13 tackles along with 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. McNamara tabbed 5 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and a sack in his first varsity start. Each member of the defensive line contributed. And the secondary held Euclid’s high-flying offense, which scored 42 points in each of its first two games, to 11 completions for 107 yards and one score.
“The secondary did a really nice job, because [Euclid] throws the ball well,” Kyle said. “A lot of times, you gotta stop the run, but we did a nice job one-on-one [with the WRs]. Our kicking game, if you look at where they were getting the football, that played an important part in the game. They never had any kind of field position.”
Looking ahead, this win will be important for the Wildcats. The victory provides a big boost for the team moving forward.
“We controlled the game, which was important,” Kyle said. “Confidence-wise, this was huge. We kept telling the kids, ‘Believe in yourselves.’ That’s what we got. Euclid will win a lot of games, they’re a very good football team. It’s early to talk playoffs, but you need to win games like this.”