Every year since 1971, the Wildcats and Eagles have met on the gridiron. Since the rivalry began, the contest has gained many monikers, but perhaps “The Game” fits the best.
In the regular season matchups since 1971, the Wildcats own the narrowest of advantages, 24-23-1. Overall, Saint Ignatius owns a 31-24-1 margin in the series, as Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle ’69 has a 25-12-1 mark vs. the Eagles, including a 24-9 record since 1988.
But to Kyle, The Game is just that, a game, especially with both teams having secured playoff spots.
"I'm not a big rivalry guy, never have been," said Kyle. "Every game is important to me. That's who I am. But the game, because it's two very good programs, is always an intense game. As a coach, I realize that every play is important. Any flaw could be a disaster. That motivates the preparation. You're not going to get away from a flaw.
"I want our players to play within themselves. They've worked hard to become good players, and nobody is asking them to be a superstar. Be who you are. That's hard, because of the emotions, and they hear about this game. There will be that kind of nervousness and excitement. We're playing at The Stadium, which is a unique and great experience for both teams. I tell them that there are a lot of people interested in this game. In a way, you're doing something that others have interest in, so you take that responsibility."
This year’s contest will take place in a unique venue – at FirstEnergy Stadium, the home of the Cleveland Browns. The game will be one that players on both sidelines will remember forever.
ST. EDWARD OFFENSE vs. SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE
Under the direction of Head Coach Tom Lombardo, St. Edward operates a big-play offense. The Eagles are a quick-strike team ready to pounce on the slightest mistake and exploit it for a touchdown.
Quarterback Garrett Dzuro leads the offense. The dual-threat signalcaller has 1,069 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air this season and 534 yards and 5 scores on the ground.
The Eagles can pass effectively, but this is a running team. Through eight games, St. Edward has run the ball on 69% of its plays (310 of 447 plays). Jordan Castleberry is the bellcow for a talented rushing attack, with 154 carries for 956 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Eagles utilize a zone read scheme, in which the shifty senior thrives, cutting to the seam and using his quickness to dash through the hole.
"They're patient. With Jordan Castleberry, you may stop him once or twice, but there could be that one where he could go all the way in a heartbeat. Garrett Dzuro is a good runner, they use their QB to run quite a bit, but he's hit some big pass plays. The defense gets so focused on the run, and they burn you on a big play. Quintel Kent can make a big play, he did against Moeller. He caught it, made a move on the safety, and he was gone. They have ability, you have to be disciplined on defense."
On the flipside, the Wildcats’ 3-3 stack defense will be paying close attention to gap integrity. Middle linebacker Tommy Eichenberg anchors the front six, leading the team in tackles. Zach McMahan, Aidan Wells, and Anthony Gerace will play a key role in occupying gaps and blockers to allow the ‘backers to flow to the ball. The Wildcats will look to "put up a picket fence" to stop Castleberry and the zone run.
The Wildcats will also need to pay close attention to Quintel Kent. The 6’0, 165-pound wideout tops the team with 38 receptions for 594 yards and 8 touchdowns. Kent caught the game-winning touchdown last week vs. Moeller, and can burn you if you don’t pay enough attention to him.
The Wildcats will look to match Kent with skilled cornerbacks, including Jett Elad, Jack Kennedy, and Connor Cmiel. At safety, Danny Scelza, Jack Welcsh, Mitch Puhalsky, and Chris Velotta Jr. will provide help in the run game and help over the top with the Eagles’ deep passing attack.
SAINT IGNATIUS OFFENSE vs. ST. EDWARD DEFENSE
On defense, the Eagles feature a mix of youth and experience, with six seniors and five juniors in the starting lineup. The Eagles certainly have plenty of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
The Eagles will typically line up with a 4-man front, often with two tackles with hands in the dirt and two standup defensive ends. St. Edward switches between 2 and 3 linebackers, depending on the situation.
Up front, defensive end Jeffrey Pietrowski leads the linemen with 72 total tackles (23 solo, 40 assists). Teon Smith, Daylan Jernigan, and Richard Johnson are the top men at linebacker, often blitzing in a variety of ways to stump opposing offenses.
St. Edward possesses a very strong secondary filled with playmakers. Caden Kolesar is the heart of the defensive backfield at cornerback, compiling 7 pass breakups, 3 sacks, and 2 quarterback hits. Logan and Lawson Nash anchor things at corner and safety, respectively. Lawson Nash tops the team with 4 interceptions this season. The secondary plays a mix of Cover 2 and zone, along with man free.
"They're strong, they hold their gaps well. They have a variety of blitzes, so we need a lot of work during the week to prepare.It's read and react to the blitz," Kyle said. "Their coverages are in tandem with the blitzes. They're well-schooled. The mesh between the coverages and blitzes is very good."
On offense, the Wildcats have steadily improved over the course of the season. Much of the credit goes to the offensive line, which has gained a reputation for grit down the stretch, opening running lanes for Jahadge “Bo” Floyd and Jack Welcsh. The Wildcats will need to establish the run early on in this matchup.
The running game has often opened space for the passing game this season. Quarterback Patrick Delahunty has shown off his strong arm and quick legs, finding Connor Cmiel and Jack Kennedy on deep routes, Ethan Biacsi and Nate Conry in the intermediate game, and Jake Lang and Aidan Wells in the red zone.
SAINT IGNATIUS SPECIAL TEAMS vs. ST. EDWARD SPECIAL TEAMS
Special teams has been a strength for the Wildcats this season. Rory McConville has handled extra points and field goals well, with Declan Mangan converting a few longer kicks. Pat Otter has pinned opponents deep all year, thanks to great snaps from Sean Wracher.
Gianluca Russo handles most of the kicking duties for the Eagles, notching 23-of-26 PATs and 1-of-2 field goals. Grant Saringer is the kickoff specialist (48.6 yards per kick), and Justin Slattery is the punter (34.6 yard average).