On a strange, rainy night at Byers Field, the Saint Ignatius football season came to an end in heartbreaking fashion.
The Wildcats left everything on the field – every last drop of blood, sweat, and tears. But fate did not have a victory in the cards for the men of Saint Ignatius.
Instead, the St. Edward Eagles managed to squeak past the Wildcats, 21-19, in the Regional Quarterfinal of the 2018 OHSAA Division I playoffs.
“To me, this was a strange game. Neither team could use the phones, so communication was totally out. And with the rain, too,” Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle ’69 said after the game. “For me, it was very difficult, because I’m usually on the phone hearing from the defense and offense. I was kind of out of what I usually do. I felt out of this thing. But we kept battling back.”
The game featured some incredible plays by both teams. The Wildcats returned a kickoff return for a touchdown for the first time since 2011, and Patrick Delahunty orchestrated an incredible 9-play, 99-yard drive. But at the end of the game, two points separated the Wildcats from the Eagles.
The Wildcats received the ball to start the game. Jahadge “Bo” Floyd kickstarted the offense with a long run down the left side, with great blocking on the outside. The rain wreaked havoc on the next few plays, though, as the rain made snapping much more difficult. The Eagles forced a punt and then blocked it, taking over at their own 42-yard line.
St. Edward utilized several read option plays on its first drive of the game. The plays led to a first down, but then Michael McNamara and Tommy Eichenberg halted the drive. The Wildcats forced a punt and then took over at their 20-yard line.
Just like last week, the Eagles forced an early turnover. The ball slipped out on a Saint Ignatius run, and St. Edward pounced on it. A few plays later, the Eagles scored on a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Joseph Formani, capitalizing on the turnover. The extra point was good, placing the lead at 7-0.
The Wildcats’ offense was not rattled on its following drive. The men of Ohio City marched down the field with smart playcalling and great execution. Patrick Delahunty found Connor Cmiel on a 34-yard connection down the near side of the field. Floyd also did his part, using his big offensive line to eat up chunks of yards. With 1:30 left in the first quarter, the Wildcats rolled the dice on 4th and 4. The Cats tried a read option, but the Eagles stayed at home and held off the hosts to grab the ball back.
The final drive of the first quarter concluded with an Eagles punt. The first drive of the second stanza ended in a similar way, with Pat Otter booming a punt down the field to return the ball to the Eagles.
The next drive also resulted in a punt, in part due to holding calls on the Eagles’ offense. Justin Slattery pinned the Wildcats back at their own 17-yard line. Nate Conry caught a nice pass, but the Cats could not pick up a first down, giving the ball back to the opponents at the Saint Ignatius 38-yard line after a punt.
The Eagles could not gain a first down on three tries. Outside of field goal range, the Eagles quicksnapped and rolled the dice on fourth down. Eichenberg and Co. stopped the Eagles short, giving the Cats the ball back.
On a critical third down with three minutes left, Cmiel caught a marvelous pass over the back of the Eagles’ defender for 28 yards. Cmiel’s critical catch gave the Wildcats the boost they needed to tie the game.
A few plays later, Jack Kennedy beat his man down the nearside of the field on a fly route. Delahunty found him on a picture-perfect throw, one of the prettiest touchdowns you’ll see on a cold night in the playoffs. Rory McConville added the extra point to knot the contest at 7 late in the half.
Armed with timeouts, the Eagles charged down the field in the waning minutes of the second quarter. Caden Campolieti and Eichenberg then disrupted the momentum with 40 seconds left in the half, as the seniors sacked the Eagles to bring the drive to a screeching halt.
The score stood at 7-7 entering halftime.
The Eagles’ passing attack fired up its first big play of the game on the third play of the second half. Quintel Kent hauled in a deep ball from Garrett Dzuro on an impressive play down the middle of the field. On the very next play, Formani notched his second rushing touchdown of the day. The PAT was good, placing the lead at 14-7.
The Wildcats responded immediately. Connor Cmiel returned the ensuing kickoff 85 thrilling yards down the Eagles’ sidelines, using a few key blocks on an absolutely beautiful play. Cmiel’s show-stopping speed was on full display on the flashy return.
“We had the return going in that direction, but it was a groundball,” Kyle said. “He did a great job scooping it up, and the kids stayed on their blocks. He saw the seam and bounced outside. He shows that he has that kind of speed, that’s why he’s back there. He makes people miss, then he takes off. That was a huge play. They had a drive, put it in, then we came back. They were groundballing because we were returning pretty well. They got a groundball, and we still got the return.”
Following a missed Saint Ignatius extra point, the Eagles nearly ran one back on the next kickoff, too. However, a holding call on the visitors negated what would have been a thrilling back-to-back kickoff return sequence.
The teams exchanged punts following the breathtaking returns. Dzuro and the Eagles fired up the ground game in response. The initial attempts gained yards, but the Wildcats forced a fumble and recovered near midfield.
The Wildcats could not convert on the turnover, unfortunately, as a deep ball resulted in a St. Edward interception by Richard Johnson. The Eagles moved the ball past midfield on an over-the-shoulder catch at the sidelines by Kent, off a beautiful throw from Dzuro. The Eagles trekked to the Wildcats’ 9-yard line by the end of the third quarter, as a heroic tackle by Jett Elad saved a St. Edward touchdown on the last play of the quarter.
On the first play of the period, the Wildcats’ defense made a critical play. Tommy Eichenberg leaped up in the end zone and made a big interception to thwart the potential scoring drive, bringing a pensive Saint Ignatius crowd to its feet.
Buried deep in its own territory, the Wildcats could not gain any traction on offense, punting the ball back to the Eagles at their 41-yard line. Not bothered by the turnover, the Eagles started marching down the field again. St. Edward concluded the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run by Dzuro and an extra point, setting the score at 21-13 Eagles with 6:37 left to play.
The second play of the Wildcats’ next drive resulted in another turnover. The Eagles picked off the Cats again with six minutes left to play in the contest. Fortunately for the home team, St. Edward could not convert on the chance. The Eagles punted the ball to the Wildcats’ 1-yard line with 3:37 left to play. The next drive was epic, perhaps one of the most impressive in recent memory for Saint Ignatius football.
A pass to Connor Cmiel fired the drive off to a great start, even with a penalty negating some of the yardage. On a critical third down a few plays later, Delahunty scrambled out of the pocket and found Floyd for a huge 16-yard completion. Then on the seventh play of the drive, Delahunty again worked some magic, finding Cmiel on a 38-yard completion to the Eagles’ 35-yard line. The very next play saw Delahunty make one of the best plays of the season.
On a delayed draw, Delahunty followed great blocks by Owen Murphy, Seamus McCarthy, and Tony Georges. Delahunty evaded a would-be tackler at the 25-yard line on the nearside hash. Delahunty then dashed a few yards before nearly being tripped up again. The senior recovered his balance, and burst forward the last 10 yards for a critical touchdown.
“We had to come up with a big play several times, and we did,” Kyle said. “Delly stepped up and hit a couple beauties. Connor Cmiel made a couple great catches. The run Delly made for the touchdown was fabulous. It put us in the ballpark, and we had a shot at it to at least tie it.”
Trailing 21-19, the Wildcats needed to convert a 2-point conversion to knot the contest at 21. The Wildcats opted for a pass play, but the Eagles managed to get to Delahunty before the senior could unload the ball.
The Wildcats tried some smart trickeration on the ensuing onside kick, trotting out both Pat Otter and Rory McConville. The ploy did not work, though, as the kick did not travel the required 10 yards.
The Eagles wrapped up the victory by gaining a first down on the next possession, advancing to the Regional Semifinal next week vs. Euclid.
“We were hitting some big plays. They got up by one, they put that one in, and now it’s 8. We got back down, had a chance to go for 2, and just didn’t execute it. That’s life,” Kyle said afterwards.
On the defensive side, Eichenberg deserves plenty of credit for making a host of plays. The senior middle 'backer finished the night with 8.5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception. That's an incredible stat line.
The Wildcats conclude the season with 8-3 record. The win is St. Edward’s first win over Saint Ignatius in the playoffs, and halts a 4-game win streak over the Eagles.
As Coach Kyle said after the game, this was a Regional Final type of bout between two heavyweight programs.
“We’re all disappointed we couldn’t keep it going for the kids. That was like a Regional Final football game, it just happens to be the first round,” Kyle said. “Coach Lombardo said the same thing. This game is supposed to be played the third week [of the playoffs], not the first week. That’s the way it goes.”
The Wildcats’ senior class will be dearly missed. There are so many high-quality men amidst this senior class. Young men such as captains Grant Abbott, Tommy Eichenberg, Chris Velotta Jr., and Nigel Drummond II, and other great players and people such as Elad, Delahunty, Floyd, Otter, Wracher, McMahan, Mangan, Kennedy, and Scelza. The senior class had a tremendous amount of talent and worked incredibly hard from start to finish at Saint Ignatius.
The 36 Wildcat senior student-athletes and 5 student-managers have a bright future ahead of them.
“This group put in a tremendous amount of work,” Kyle said. “I feel bad because with the amount of work, they deserved to keep going in this thing. You look back freshmen year, and they lost a few games. Sophomore year, they lost a couple games, but they kept working and they put together a great season like this. With our schedule, that was pretty impressive.”