In a game with major playoff implications between powerhouse programs from Cincinnati and Cleveland with a combined 20 OHSAA State Championships, the men of Ohio City earned a resounding victory.
The Saint Ignatius Wildcats dominated the visiting Archbishop Moeller Crusaders on Saturday at Byers Field, 32-7.
The Wildcats won in all aspects of the game. The Nick Restifo-led offense gained 313 yards and reached the end zone twice. Defensive coordinator Ryan Franzinger’s unit allowed just 97 yards on 50 plays and forced six turnovers. And the Wildcats’ special teams unit notched four field goals in impressive fashion.
“That was a very complete win against a very good team,” said Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle ’69. “Everyone knows Moeller is playing well. They had to travel up, and that’s hard, but we have to do that next week. Let’s see how we handle it. Defensively, offensively, and kicking game, we had a very complete game. That’s nice to see because we work hard at all of those things and the kids take pride in it.”
The teams started the game with punts as rain trickled down on a gray day in Parma. A trick flip from Jahadge “Bo” Floyd to Ethan Biacsi on the Wildcats’ second drive of the day kickstarted the action.
Moeller stood strong on defense following the big play, forcing a lengthy Saint Ignatius field goal. Declan Mangan converted the 50-yarded against the wind, an impressive kick to give the Wildcats a 3-0 lead with 5:23 left in the quarter.
The Wildcats defense again limited Moeller on the following drive and started to drive down the field thanks to passes to Jack Kennedy and Jake Lang. But a Ryan Mullaney strip sack gave the football to the Crusaders on their own 32-yard line with 2:22 left in the first.
On the very next play, the Wildcats stole the ball back. Anthony Gerace recovered a Moeller fumble on a running play, keeping the Crusaders from capitalizing on the turnover and giving the offense the ball on the Moeller 32.
The Wildcats managed some yards on a Delahunty to Cmiel pass, but Moeller stopped the hosts from picking up a first down. Declan Mangan still made Moeller pay, converting a 43-yard field goal with 2:22 left in the first. The score remained 6-0 Wildcats entering the second quarter.
“We have two good kickers,” Kyle said. “Right now, Declan has a tendency to get it up higher, so with the wind, we’ll take a few extra yards, and it worked. Rory is very consistent, they keep calling him, ‘Money.’ He’s very accurate. We have Pat [Otter] punting and kicking off, so our kicking game is very solid right now.”
With 8:04 left in the second, the Wildcats rolled the dice from the Crusaders 41-yard line. Facing a 4th and 1, the Wildcats decided to go for it. Moeller stopped the Wildcats just short of the first down marker, by no more than a few inches.
Even still, the Wildcats stood strong on defense. Jack Kennedy intercepted a long Moeller pass at the Wildcats’ 23-yard line with 7:02 left in the half.
The teams traded the ball before Moeller’s offense finally found traction. The Crusaders prodded the Wildcats’ defense with the run before beating the Cats over the top. Quarterback Malik Verdon floated a perfect pass over coverage to RJ Khayo in the nearside corner of the end zone. Moeller took the 7-6 lead with the extra point.
The Wildcats refused to take a deficit into halftime. Delahunty navigated the offense down the field in the waning moments of the half, calculatingly finding holes in the Moeller defense. Delahunty connected with Kennedy, Cmiel, and Jack Welcsh on clutch passes.
Welcsh’s reception was particularly crucial. Forced to scramble, Delahunty searched downfield for an option on third and long. The senior found his trusty running back down the field, and Welcsh did the rest. The junior bounced off several Moeller defenders and dashed downfield to the 1-yard line.
Following a timeout, Delahunty finished off the drive with a 1-yard strike across the middle to Aidan Wells. The senior tight end’s crucial catch snatched the lead back, setting the Wildcats ahead 13-7 following a Rory McConville extra point.
“It was amazing,” Wells said. “The last time I had a touchdown was during my sophomore year. I’m so excited, that was a great moment. We were in our goal line formation – basically, I pretended to block for a second, then I did a 2-yard fly and I got open. I couldn’t believe I was in the end zone. I looked back and thought, ‘Does this count?’ I caught it and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that just happened!’”
Moeller decided to kneel on the final 13 seconds of the first half, sending the Wildcats into the locker room with a lead.
Momentum swung to the Wildcats again at the start of the second half. On the second play from scrimmage, the Wildcats stripped the ball away from the Crusaders. Welcsh recovered the fumble and began an adventurous return. The junior refused to go down, fighting through a number of would-be tacklers to the Moeller 11-yard line.
On the very next play, Delahunty dashed into the right side of the end zone to the delight of the Wildcats’ fans. Nick Schwitzgebel and Jack Kennedy provided the key blocks on the read option. Delahunty’s third rushing score of the game extended the Wildcats’ lead to 19-7 before Moeller blocked the extra point.
The Wildcats’ defense continued to impress on the next drive, forcing a quick Moeller punt. The Saint Ignatius offensive line went to work, paving the way for Floyd and Delahunty to run wild, killing clock all the while. The drive ended with a 25-yard Rory McConville field goal to set the advantage at 22-7.
Another dagger came with two minutes left in the third quarter. Connor Cmiel picked off a desperate Moeller pass near the Wildcats’ sidelines at the 45-yard, and then worked some magic. The junior corner followed an open seam to the left side into the end zone, following blocks by Anthony Gerace and others, delivering a major ding to Moeller’s hopes of a comeback. McConville’s PAT advanced the score to 29-7 Wildcats.
“I’m pleased with the effort. A lot of big plays,” Coach Franzinger ’02 said. “Takeaways were crucial, some forced, some unforced, but we’ll take them. They got in a little bit of a groove at the end of the first half. We weren’t sure which quarterback we would see, because they had some success with [Verdon]. I’m impressed with our performance. Moeller has a lot of good weapons, a lot of good running backs and skill players, big offensive line. We had a great week of practice.”
Despite a switch at quarterback, the Crusaders struggled to do much against the Wildcats’ defense. The front six continued to pressure the Crusaders’ backfield, as Gerace, Tommy Eichenberg, Caden Campolieti, and others held firm. The Wildcats stopped the Crusaders on fourth on short late in the third quarter, giving the ball back to the offense.
On the final play of the quarter, Delahunty scrambled and found Jack Kennedy on a last-second pass for 17 yards. The big play set the Wildcats in scoring territory to end the third.
The Football Cats continued to pound Moeller’s defense to begin the fourth quarter. A Floyd off-tackle run pushed the Cats to the Moeller 7-yard line. The Crusaders did stand strong to keep the hosts out of the end zone, but McConville ensured the Wildcats did not walk away empty-handed. The junior converted from 25 yards out, placing the score at 32-7.
On its ensuing drive, Moeller tried to pass the ball to narrow the advantage. The Linebacker Legion prevented Moeller from earning any yards through the air. A failed Moeller punt gave the Wildcats the ball at the Moeller 31-yard line with six minutes remaining.
With time dwindling, the Wildcats burned clock with short passes and runs. Following a turnover on offense, the Wildcats’ defense once again stepped up to thwart the Moeller attack, ending the game at 32-7.
The stats from the game are telling of the overall domination by the Wildcats on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats enjoyed a large margin in yards gained, 313-97. Moeller completed just 5-of-14 passes for 49 yards, throwing two interceptions, while Delahunty completed 14-of-27 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown.
Most importantly, the Wildcats controlled the ground game. Moeller depends heavily on its run game, calling a run on about 71% of plays. The Wildcats prepared accordingly, and allowed just 48 yards on 36 attempts, an average of 1.3 yards per carry. Eichenberg finished with a team-best 8 tackles, along with one tackle for loss, one sack, and one forced fumble. Gerace notched 7.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery.
“We did a good job in reading keys on certain things they do in their run game,” Kyle said. “The secondary was reading some good situations, recognizing it wasn’t a pass and were able to get a good fit. We always talk about getting a fit. We don’t need two guys in the same gap and no one in the other gap. We were doing that very nicely.”
Franzinger credited not only the players on the field, but also his defensive coaching staff and the scout team.
“I would like to give a big shoutout to my intern, junior Ben Rossi. He did a great job with the Moeller offense and running the scout team,” Franzinger said. “We were good on all three levels. Defensive line played well, as did the linebackers and defensive backs, and the coaches. I’m very pleased.”
On the offensive side, the Wildcats’ offensive line performed quite well. The big men up front opened space for Floyd to run for 55 yards and allowed time for Delahunty to work the passing game.
“It took us a little while to settle in with the run game in the first quarter,” Kyle said. “We were getting a good feel for, ‘In this formation, we’re going to get this.’ That gave the kids more confidence. Go ahead and get in your blocking scheme, and if they twist, we’ll pick it up. On a couple of twists, we got big plays. They were gambling, but we picked them up.”
Without a doubt, Saturday’s game was a complete team win for the Wildcats, a crucial one for the team’s playoff hopes.
“This win means everything. We circled it on our calendars after Elder,” Wells said. “We knew Moeller would be good, and looking at playoff points, we knew this was a must-win for us. I’m glad we were able to pull it off.”
Next week, the Wildcats will hit the road for Cincinnati. The men of Ohio City will face St. Xavier on Saturday at Ballaban Field at 2 p.m.
JV AND FRESHMEN UPDATE: The JV Cats fell to 3-3 on the year with a 7-6 loss to Massillon on Saturday. The Freshmen Cats defeated Massillon on the road, 28-19, advancing to 7-0 on the year.