By Kevin Askeland
For Cleveland St. Ignatius coach Chuck Kyle, it’s not exactly a case of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em." It’s more like, “see if they’ll join you.”
Kyle is the head coach of the United States junior national team, which will compete in the International Federation of American Football Junior World Championships this summer in Canton, Ohio. One of the members of his impressive coaching staff is longtime adversary Steve Specht of Cincinnati St Xavier.
The two coaches will walk the sideline together in June with Kyle assuming head coaching duties and Specht working his magic as the team’s defensive coordinator. Saturday, however, they’ll be on opposite sidelines with Kyle trying to figure out how best to get past Specht’s tough Bomber defense.
St. Ignatius (7-1) and St. Xavier (4-4) play in the MaxPreps 5 Days 2 Friday event with a 2 p.m. kickoff Saturday in Cincinnati. St. Xavier has had the upper hand in this rivalry for much of the decade, winning the last seven regular season meetings between the two teams. The Wildcats last beat the Bombers in the 2001 state championship game, one of nine state championships won by Kyle.
While St. Xavier has been the more dominant team in the series of late, St. Ignatius has been the more dominant team this season. After losing their opener to Glenville, the Wildcats have won seven straight, including a 50-0 win over LaSalle last week.
That’s not good news for the Bombers, who have struggled on offense all season long despite strong play by the defense. Throw out 33 points allowed to Elder in the Bombers’ worst loss of the season, St. Xavier has given up just seven touchdowns in its seven other games.
However the offense has been unable to take advantage, scoring just 12 touchdowns on the season. This coming just one year removed from a 15-0 season and a Division 1 state championship, the second in the past three years for the Bombers.
In fact, the Bombers are fighting to get back into the playoffs this season. After starting the season at 3-1, St. Xavier lost three straight games to Louisville Trinity (17-6), Elder (33-6) and LaSalle (10-7) before defeating St. Edward last week 13-3. The loss to LaSalle was particularly significant considering the Wildcats’ recent blowout win over the Lancers.
Injuries have played a major role in St. Xavier’s offensive woes. Junior quarterback Luke Massa went down in the Trinity loss with a broken collarbone. His replacement, senior quarterback Sam Male, suffered the same fate against LaSalle. Additionally, the Bombers lost leading rusher Connor Earley with a knee injury against the Lancers.
“You are what your record says you are,” Specht told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We have kids who have never been in this situation, but we’re just gonna keep plugging. Injuries are part of the game but you have to be able to overcome that.”
Joe O’Toole threw for 154 yards and two touchdowns as the Bombers’ quarterback in a win over St. Edwards last week while Nevin Heard rushed for 144 yards on 33 carries.
Since losing its season opener, St. Ignatius has been close to unstoppable on offense. The Wildcats have strung together seven straight wins, averaging 41 points per game including 49 or more in their last four outings. The 50-0 victory over LaSalle was the most lopsided victory of the year for St. Ignatius.
In Eddie Dwyer’s blog on the St. Ignatius website, Kyle noted that the Wildcats’ win over LaSalle and St. Xavier’s loss to the Lancers might be a dangerous comparison.
“I don’t even want our kids to think it,” Kyle said. “Because I think LaSalle was spent the other night, emotionally from the week before and having to make that trip up (to Parma’s Byers Field). Just the whole scenario, they didn’t have the energy, we got two quick scores and it sort of just snowballed.”
The Wildcats got a spark on special teams play from Frank DeSico last week as he returned a pair of 72-yard punt returns for touchdowns. Meanwhile on offense, Andrew Holland completed 13 of 19 passes for183 yards and a pair of touchdowns and also ran for a score. Connor Ryan caught both TD passes and finished with eight catches for 134 yards.