MENTOR, Ohio - In what could only be described as déjà vu, the Division 1, Region 1 playoffs witnessed an electrifying repeat performance between two of Northeast Ohio’s premier teams. The 12 seed St. Ignatius Wildcats once again upended the 5-seed Mentor Cardinals, marking the second time this year that the underdog Wildcats managed to outplay the higher-seeded Cardinals in the final moments of the game.
Beating a team once in football is hard. Beating a team twice as the away team is almost never heard of. The first meeting between the two was a nail-biter
In Week Two, with the Wildcats emerging victorious 16-14 as the Cardinals ran out of time for a game-winning attempt. The rematch proved just as thrilling as both teams looked to put their regular season behind them and focus on the playoffs.
With the clock ticking down and the game on the line, Mentor had one last drive to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But a missed late-game 33-yard field goal from junior placekicker Dylan Tackett sealed their fate, propelling the Wildcats to the next round of the playoffs.
Offensive fireworks were at a premium in the first half, with both teams struggling to find their rhythm. It was St. Ignatius who broke the deadlock, courtesy of a 34-yard field goal from their reliable senior placekicker, Tommy Kilbane, as the first-half buzzer sounded.
The Wildcats' momentum continued into the third quarter. Senior quarterback Joshua Papesh found junior wide receiver Cody Haddad in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown pass, extending their lead to 10-0 with just over two minutes left in the third.
But Mentor wasn't about to go down without a fight in front of the Cardinal faithful. The Cardinals' resurgence was sparked by senior defensive back Caden Markowski, who intercepted a Papesh pass meant for junior running back Grant Washington.
Capitalizing on this turnover, junior quarterback Scotty Fox connected with junior wide receivers Austins Justen Hodge and VanHuss on back-to-back plays for a combined 60 yards and a touchdown. VanHuss’s long touchdown catch turned some eyes on the Wildcat’s sideline indicating this game was far from over.
This impressive effort saw the Cardinals claw their way back into the game, reducing the Wildcats' lead to a single score with less than five minutes on the clock.
However, a determined St. Ignatius side managed to drain the clock, leaning heavily on their workhorse, Washington. With time running out, Mentor had one final shot at redemption. Despite Fox's valiant efforts to push his team past the halfway mark, he was sacked by Wildcats' senior defensive lineman Greg Hanson Jr.
The Cardinals' hopes rested on a 33-yard field goal, but it wasn't meant to be. The kick didn't have enough leg on it landing two yards short of the uprights, handing the Wildcats another heart-stopping win over the Cardinals.
Despite their rocky 2-8 record, St. Ignatius's playoff journey continues which doesn't surprise Wildcats Head Coach Ryan Franzinger who believes the team’s playoff schedule started Week 1 back in August.
“We’ve been in the playoffs in the past 11 weeks now. That's what I think with the caliber of teams we've played and Mentor is one of them in Week Two. We were happy to move on from that regular season. It was rough. It was up and down. It was difficult, but we knew we were playing tremendous teams all year. We had some great moments throughout and we embraced that. We had a great week of practice to beat Mentor again. It's hard to beat a team at their house twice, so you have to play the physiological game. i think we did that. We held them to one touchdown and they score 40 points a week.”
The Wildcats will face off against the Canton McKinley Bulldogs next Friday at the iconic Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. The kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET.