For the fourth time in the lengthy history of the Saint Ignatius vs. St. Edward rivalry, the two teams will meet in the postseason.
The Wildcats won last week’s matchup at FirstEnergy Stadium, 21-7, to clinch the No. 2 seed and home-field advantage at Byers Field. The Eagles dropped to No. 7 in the rankings, setting up an immediate rematch.
The same scenario played out in 2008. The Wildcats defeated the Eagles in back-to-back weeks, 34-12 in the regular season and 37-0 in the playoffs. The Football Cats have won all three previous playoff matchups.
Ten years later, the teams meet again for the second straight week, with Saint Ignatius hoping that history repeats itself. The Wildcats' coaching staff has worked hard this week to make tweaks and changes to make it happen.
"This is a very high-quality and high-powered football game for the first round of the playoffs," said Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle '69. "There are certain things you see after you play a team that you didn't realize beforehand. To say there will be wholesale changes, that's crazy, you don't have enough time. There are some things that you thought you were you going to use but didn't because of the game flow. After you play that game, you say, 'We could do this one blocking scheme or play.'"
St. EDWARD OFFENSE vs. SAINT IGNATIUS DEFENSE
In a rainy contest last week, the Eagles turned to their ground game. St. Edward churned out 229 yards on 54 attempts, an average of 4.24 yards per carry. With rain in the forecast on Friday, St. Edward may go with a similar strategy at Byers Field. The Eagles run about 70% of the time on average.
Jordan Castleberry is the team’s lead runner. The senior surpassed the 1,000 yard mark with 103 yards on 27 carries last week. Castleberry has scored 13 rushing touchdowns, over a third of the Eagles’ 35 offensive touchdowns this season. Castleberry is one of the most talented backs in the area, with quick feet and a nose for running lanes.
Garrett Dzuro plays a major role in the ground game, too. The dual-threat quarterback has 661 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns, including a 24-yard scramble last week. Through the air, Dzuro has 1,115 passing yards and 15 touchdowns, despite only passing for 44 yards in the rain last week.
If the weather allows, Dzuro will look deep for Quintel Kent. The senior is the team’s top wideout, with 594 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. Kent hauls in an average of 4.2 passes per game.
On the flipside, the Wildcats’ trademark 3-3 stack defense will focus on gap integrity against the Eagles’ zone run offense.
Middle linebacker Tommy Eichenberg is a constant presence, always flowing to the ballcarrier. Fellow linebackers Caden Campolieti, Connor Francz, and Michael McNamara will also figure into the gameplan.
The Wildcats’ defensive line group, anchored by Zach McMahan, Aidan Wells, Seamus Cooney, and Anthony Gerace, will be active on Friday.
Danny Scelza starred last week, picking off a pass and recovering a fumble to earn MVP honors from the Great American Rivalry Series. Jett Elad, Jack Kennedy, Jack Welcsh, Connor Cmiel, Mitch Puhalsky, and Chris Velotta Jr. are other key members of the secondary. As a unit, the Wildcats will look to keep the Eagles one-dimensional.
Above all, Kyle wants his defense to remain resilient, as they did last week.
"We were down 7-0. Keep your faith, keep your focus, and keep working. Don't let anything like that bother you," Kyle said. "It didn't bother our guys – we kept working, and tied the game up. Let's keep going. That's important, because you're playing a high quality team like St. Ed's. They make plays, so you have to weather it and then make a play. That's important."
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 have talent to burn on both sides of the ball.
The Eagles 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 2-3 linebackers, depending on the situation.
Up front, defensive end Jeffrey Pietrowski leads the linemen as a stout run-stuffer and pass rusher. 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, and intercepted a pass last week. Logan and Lawson Nash anchor things at corner and safety, respectively. Lawson Nash tops the team with 4 interceptions this season.
Setting up the run will be crucial for the Wildcats. Jahadge “Bo” Floyd and Jack Welcsh have split carries this season, and have both performed well. Floyd a solid game against St. Edward last week, with 44 yards and a touchdown.
Quarterback Patrick Delahunty helms the passing attack, with 1,676 and 15 touchdowns through the air this season. Connor Cmiel is his top passing option. The junior has a catch in all 10 games this season, with 34 catches for 723 yards and 6 touchdowns on the year. Other wideouts to watch include Jack
Kennedy, Nate Conry, Ethan Biacsi, Jake Lang, and Aidan Wells, among others.
Most importantly, the Wildcats will be looking to avoid making any mistakes or turnovers on offense.
"In being very stark, we're glad we won [last week]," Kyle said. "They had a couple of damaging turnovers that I'm glad to say we took advantage of. That's part of the key to victory. We turned the ball over, and they ran it back. Turnover action had a lot to do with the game. Neither team wants to have that situation again, where turnovers lead to easy points for the opponent."
SAINT IGNATIUS SPECIAL TEAMS vs. ST. EDWARD SPECIAL TEAMS
Special teams has been a strength for the Wildcats this season. Rory McConville has expertly handled extra points and field goals, with Declan Mangan converting a few longer kicks. Pat Otter has pinned opponents deep all year, thanks to perfect snaps by Sean Wracher.
Gianluca Russo handles most of the kicking duties for the Eagles, notching 24-of-27 PATs and 1-of-2 field goals. Grant Saringer is the kickoff man (48.6 yards per kick), and Justin Slattery is the punter (36.2 yard average).
SIBN: Per OHSAA rules, the remainder of the games this season will be audio-only broadcasts. Zack Strom '19 and Jack O'Rourke '20 will have the call on the SIBN.
TICKET INFORMATION: Tickets still remain for Friday's showdown! Fans can purchase tickets tomorrow at Saint Ignatius in the Athletic Department for $8 from 8 am through 3 pm. Tickets will also be available at the gate at Byers Field.