In the eyes of Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle ’69 and the Saint Ignatius football team, Saturday’s game vs. Elder is a crucial midseason test.
The Wildcats have rebounded to 2-2 with solid victories over Euclid and COF Academy. A question looms, however.
Are the Wildcats a playoff caliber team?
“This is the fifth game, so we’re halfway through the season already,” Kyle said. “There are a lot of big ballgames coming up, but we started with two great football teams that are ranked right up there in the state, and rightfully so. Here’s another quality team that plans on going to the playoffs and doing well. The kids realize it’s an important game. ‘Are we ready to say we’re a playoff caliber team?’ This is the type of game that will go 48 minutes. We need to see ourselves do it.”
Kyle and his troops believe Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Byers Field will reveal plenty.
Guided by Doug Ramsey, the Panthers carry a 3-1 record into the contest. Elder defeated Gahanna Lincoln, Indianapolis Cathedral, and Clarkson Football North to start the year before St. Edward stole a 36-30 win at “The Pit” last Saturday.
With a dangerous offense and a dynamic defense, the Panthers will pose a challenge.
ELDER OFFENSE VS. SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE
Traditionally, Elder offenses have a strong passing game. The 2018 Panthers are no different.
Quarterback Michael Bittner leads the charge for Elder. The 6’2, 200-pound signalcaller has a strong arm and quick feet. Bittner completed 30-of-42 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns against the Eagles, giving him 793 yards and 7 scores through the air on the year.
Bittner has plenty of weapons, including running back Luke Masminster, wideouts Kyle Trischler and Sean O’Conner, and tight end Joe Royer. Trischler leads the team with 349 yards and 3 TDs. Royer is a dangerous deep threat on posts or flag routes – the 6’5, 210-pound receiver caught two such passes for scores against St. Edward.
The Panthers often employ rollouts and quarterback draws, operating almost exclusively out of the shotgun formation.
“They throw the ball accurately and their patterns are crisp,” Kyle said. “They will give you dropback and rollout, and they do a lot of rollout. The run-pass option is always there. Elder has no problem running the quarterback 20 times a game. It’s a numbers game. When you spread it out, you gotta cover everybody, and there’s one back with the quarterback, then he’s a lead back and the quarterback is basically a tailback, and you’re down some numbers.”
Thus far this season, the Wildcats’ defense has excelled in limiting opponents through the air, holding foes to 120.2 yards per game. Jett Elad, who committed to Ohio University earlier this week, will have a key role in stopping Elder’s passing attack. Mitch Puhalsky, Jack Kennedy, Chris Velotta Jr., Danny Scelza, and Aidan Rechin will also be important.
“We’ll mix various things in,” Kyle said. “You don’t want to stay in the same thing, because they’ll figure it out. We’ll mix coverages and looks. You say spy, but there has to be someone well-aware of the fact that the quaretrback, if he doesn’t like what he sees, can take off.”
Up front, defensive lineman Zach McMahan will be critical in attacking Bittner. McMahan leads the Wildcats with 4 sacks.
Tommy Eichenberg will be important at middle linebacker, as always. The senior has a team-high 39 tackles and 7 tackles for loss.
SAINT IGNATIUS OFFENSE vs. ELDER DEFENSE
The Wildcats’ passing attack took a large leap forward vs. COF Academy, as quarterback Patrick Delahunty tossed 4 touchdown passes, all to different wideouts. The Cats will look to build on that big performance vs. Elder.
Establishing the run vs. Elder will be of the utmost importance. Jahadge “Bo” Floyd, who tabbed his 10th career touchdown on a 4-yard score last week, will look to find seams behind the Saint Ignatius offensive line.
“The running game has to contribute,” Kyle said. “We want more consistency. When we had good runs last year vs. Elder, we drove down the field. We’re trying to work on that part of it. We need to have a push. [The offensive linemen] need to keep their eyes up, so that we can get bodies on bodies and let allow the back make a cut. At times, [Elder’s] defense can almost feel like a goal line defense, with the way they hammer the gaps. We have to be patient with that. If we can get some running going, that really helps the passing.”
Elder employs a 3-4 defense, with the backside linebacker operating as a safety/linebacker hybrid. Two middle linebackers head up the guards, the nose tackle plays on the center, and the defensive ends will switch between inside and outside of the offensive tackles.
As a result, the Panthers’ defense can be stout against the run, especially with run-conscious safeties. But if the Wildcats can run the ball well, the playaction pass and the deep ball might open up for Delahunty and the Wildcats.
As far as coverage, Elder will switch things up. The coverage often hinges on the backside linebacker/safety – if he blitzes, the Panthers often play man coverage or a three-deep zone. If he hangs back, watch out for a two- or four-deep zone. Elder will not stick to one scheme, as the Panthers will try to confuse the Cats.
SAINT IGNATIUS SPECIAL TEAMS vs. ELDER SPECIAL TEAMS
Games often hinge on special teams, and this contest just might. The Wildcats have a strong unit with kickoff specialist/punter Pat Otter, field goal/extra point kicker Rory McConville, long snapper Sean Wracher, and holder Henry Cook. The Wildcats have 17 points via special teams this year – 11 extra points and 6 points via a blocked punt.
On the other side, Elder has very good special teams. Connor Ammon averages 41.5 yards per punt, has converted 1-of-2 field goals, and 8-of-11 extra points. Elder has notched 3 punt returns of 10+ yards and a 41-yard kick return.
“This will be an interesting matchup because they have a good special teams unit,” Kyle said. “They work really hard at it, they have good kickers. Their return game is fine, they’ve had a couple nice kickoff returns. We have to win that battle, and this will be a very good challenge.”