The Division I State Championship on Saturday shapes up to be a clash of Ohio high school titans. No school in history has 10 state titles in football. Cleveland St. Ignatius is one shy. No conference in history has more D-I state championship appearances than Cincinnati’s Greater Catholic League. Elder is Ignatius’s opponent. Did someone say electric?
DIVISION I STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
Who: Cleveland St. Ignatius (13-1) vs Cincinnati Elder (13-1)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Canton’s Fawcett Stadium
The Division I State Championship on Saturday shapes up to be a clash of Ohio high school titans.
No school in history has 10 state titles in football. Cleveland St. Ignatius is one shy.
No conference in history has more D-I state championship appearances than Cincinnati’s Greater Catholic League. Elder is playing in the GCL’s 19th title game. The Panthers are looking for the conference’s 12th state title and their third.
Despite the fact that over 250 miles separate the schools, Elder and Ignatius had four common opponents in 2008: Clayton Northmont, Cincinnati LaSalle, Cincinnati St. Xavier and Lakewood St. Edward.
Elder beat LaSalle 31-0, while Ignatius beat the Lancers 50-0. The Wildcats beat St. Ed twice (34-13 and 37-0 in the playoffs), while the Panthers beat the Eagles 52-31. St. X fell to Ignatius 19-16 in overtime and lost to Elder 33-15.
Northmont can take some pride in the fact that it went 10-2 this year with both losses coming to the teams in the state championship game. Ignatius beat Northmont 23-3 in Week 2, while Elder stopped the T-Bolts 13-10 in the regional semifinals.
St. Ignatius has more state titles than any school in state history. The Wildcats won their first state title in 1988 and their ninth – and last – in 2001. They haven’t been back to the title game since. Newark Catholic has eight titles and Moeller owns seven.
Ignatius head coach Chuck Kyle has led all nine of the Wildcats championship teams.
“(The kids) are well aware of the past,” Kyle said. “I think it’s always a goal for these kids to want to write their own chapter in the history. I hope its not a situation where they get too nervous and intimidated. I hope it’s a motivating factor.”
Ignatius is 9-1 overall in championship games and is 2-0 against both St. Xavier and Moeller. The Wildcats have never played Elder in a state final. Ignatius’s only loss in a state championship game came in 1996 when Lima Senior beat the Wildcats 38-30.
Elder actually has a better winning-percentage in state finals than Ignatius. The Panthers are 2-0 with back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003 over Warren Harding and St. Edward, respectively. Elder head coach Doug Ramsey was also coach of those teams.
WHEN ELDER HAS THE BALL
Ignatius lost its first game of the season 20-17 to Glenville on a last second field goal. Since then its ripped off 13 straight wins thanks in part to a stingy defense that’s allowed 107 points in 14 games and just 14 in the playoffs.
“The scheme we do is based on speed to the ball and being able to adjust quickly using athleticism,” Kyle said. “We have a number of kids that can run and swarm to the football. We can adapt to various formations and can come with some creative blitzes. And the kids love it. They love playing it and they get excited about it.”
Senior safety Dan Fox (6-4, 220) is headed to Notre Dame. Junior linebacker Scott McVey (6-1, 210) is also a big-time recruit.
McVey leads the Wildcats with 86 tackles and has an astonishing 30.5 tackles for loss.
“He’s fun to watch because all over the field,” Kyle said of McVey. “He’s also a very good pass rusher on a blitz. He has moves and he can get by people. He’s gone against some good D-I prospect linemen and had great success. He’s hard to block.
“If we think a certain offensive lineman may have a problem handling Scott we’ll just go ahead and attack it and it’s been working pretty well.”
Said Ramsey: “You have to ready for him. We’ll make sure we at least make an effort to block him.”
Fox has 46.5 tackles, 10 TFL and four interceptions.
Senior safety Pat Hinkel, a Miami (Oh.) recruit, has a team-high seven interceptions. Hinkel (6-1, 195) also has 60 tackles. Senior OLB Seamus Siefring (6-0, 210) has 64 tackles, including 16 for loss.
“Our concerns defensively are their ability to blitz and run around and be extremely aggressive,” Ramsey said. “We’ve got to prepared to block the blitz and that’s the big concern. Can we do that?”
The Panthers counter with an explosive offense led by Mr. Football finalist and junior quarterback Mark Miller (6-0, 170). Miller, the GCL South Player of the Year, has 2,669 passing yards and 28 TDs.
One of Miller’s favorite targets is senior receiver Josh Jones (6-3, 210). Jones is committed to Cincinnati.
“(Miller) has that little extra about him,” Ramsey said. “He’s a leader and he’s able to make plays. Pickerington got after him pretty good and he was able to move around out of the pocket and get it done.”
The running game is fueled by junior Adam Brown (5-8, 160). Brown does his work behind a line anchored by seniors John Anevski (6-4, 280, G) and Austen Bujnoch (6-5, 245, T). Anevski has offers from Louisville, Bowling Green, Ohio and Miami and Bujnoch is committed to UC.
“Elder’s passing game is very impressive,” Kyle said. “What a challenge it is to try to defend them. And then when you concentrate on the pass that opens up the run. We’re going to have to do a lot of work to match them.
“I think in this ballgame Elder’s going to get a chance to score some points. Our offense is going to have to help the defense and get some points too.”
WHEN ST. IGNATIUS HAS THE BALL
If there’s a better Division I QB than Miller in the state, it might be Ignatius’ Andrew Holland. Holland, who started as a sophomore, leads an aerial attack that has been playing varsity for three years. Both of Holland’s favorite targets – Joey Parris (6-1, 195) and Connor Ryan (6-1, 185) started as sophomores as well.
Holland has completed 155-of-263 attempts for 2,512 yards and 25 TDs.
Parris has 50 receptions for 841 yards and 10 TDs. Ryan, who has committed to Ball State, has 45 catches for 910 yards and 12 TDs.
On the ground, senior TB Mike Anter (5-10, 190) and reserve Kevin Johnson are a solid grouping. Anter leads the Wildcats with 887 yards and 10 TDs on 197 carries. Johnson has 300 yards and four TDs on 70 touches.
The Wildcats average 34 points per game.
Said Kyle: “It’s nice we have those kinds of weapons.”
Elder’s defense doesn’t have the individual headline grabbers that the offense does, but the unit does feature seven players who were first or second team All-GCL.
“Offensively they do such a good job in the passing game,” Ramsey said. “Their quarterback is extremely accurate and they’ve got a number of receivers who can really spread the field on you. They can throw deep and they can throw underneath. Plus they can run the ball. They are here for a reason.
“This is an awful big challenge for our team.”
“It’s like you have children. And all your children are special and they’re unique. Every one of these teams we’ve had here is unique. This one is in the same category.” – Kyle
“I’m never one to talk superlatives. All along I thought we had the chance to go far. We had a number of very important, experienced people back on offense and that’s always a key. On defense we lost some kids but the ones we had back were at important positions: Linebacker, strong safety and defensive tackle. The basic characteristics for a good season were there. We were optimistic.” – Kyle
“I think coming into the season we thought we had a chance to do some good things. After our Week 2 loss to St. Thomas Aquinas – you know we lost 35-24 and turned the ball over seven times – our kids realized we were pretty good. The thing that really got us going though was how we came out and played against St. X in the first half. We took a 26-0 halftime lead. It was probably at that point that there were some thoughts about it but we realized then we had a chance to do something special.” – Ramsey
“I think this is two fairly similar teams playing against each other. Their defense and our defense is a little bit different in style, but has the same type of players. On offense both teams like to throw the ball but have the ability to run it a little.” – Ramsey
Although it would be something to see Kyle and the Wildcats get title No. 10, I think Elder and Ramsey net No. 3. Elder’s only loss this season was to Aquinas from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.), which is ranked No. 2 in the country by USA Today. St. Ignatius is No. 16 and Elder is No. 18. Guess this is an upset then: Elder 21-Ignatius 17.