By Bonta Hill
Saturday’s contest between St. Ignatius and Milpitas provided some big plays and bizarre moments in their non-league affair.
Not able to fully capitalize on four first-half turnovers by the Trojans (0-0-1), the Wildcats (0-1-1) also missed a potential game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter, forcing a 14-14 tie at J.B. Murphy field.
“Both teams played hard, and yes, we didn’t come out with the win, but we didn’t lose either,” said Wildcats head coach Steve Bluford. “[We] played hard and I’m proud of our team after last week’s performance.”
St. Ignatius would crack the scoreboard first when they took advantage of a short field after the Trojans receiver Rodney McKenzie fumbled on a punt return.
Standout running back Zac Schuller carried the Wildcats into the end zone with a 10-yard jaunt to finish the five-play, 30-yard drive and give the Wildcats the early 7-0 lead.
Schuller would come out of the game later in the first quarter and wouldn’t return with a reported concussion.
The Trojans, the defending CIF-Central Coast Section Division I champions, playing in their first game of the season, would hurt themselves all game with fumbles and personal foul penalties, and missed a huge opportunity to tie the game late in the second quarter.
McKenzie went up over a Wildcat defender to haul in quarterback Tony Saucedo’s pass and seemed to have a clear path to end zone, only to fumble the ball at the 1-yard line to turn it back over to the Wildcats.
The Trojan sideline was infuriated by the call and were called for unsportsmanlike conduct as they felt McKenzie was down by contact.
“We thought our man was down on the play, but we cant blame the referrees on the outcome,” said Milpitas head coach Kelly King after the game. “We had our chances to take this game.”
Despite recovering three fumbles and an interception in the first half, St. Ignatius would find itself up only 7-0 at the break and would pay later for only having seven points on the board.
Saucedo would find McKenzie twice down the sideline for 46- and 35-yard touchdowns, including a spectacular one-handed grab to take the lead 14-7 with 5:52 remaining in the third quarter.
Suacedo would finish the game with 165 yards on 7-for-10 passing with two touchdown passes and an interception. McKenzie would finish with five receptions for 129 yards, to go along with his two touchdown grabs.
With the momentum slipping away, the Wildcats defense stiffened behind five sacks on the game, including three from defensive end John Murphy.
The Wildcat offense, which struggled last week with eight fumbles, took better care of the ball against Milpitas and stuck with the game plan despite the loss of Schuller.
Although quarterback Jeff Farlow had relatively modest numbers, with 72 yards and an interception on 7-of-21 passing, the Wildcats remained patient and their running game would lead them down for tying touchdown.
St. Ignatius senior running back Jacob Brisbane, who ran for a gritty 40 yards on nine carries, would power in a touchdown from three yards out to tie the game at 14-14 with 10:23 remaining on a nine-play, 50-yard drive.
“I liked how our team didn’t fold and kept fighting and staying the course,” Bluford said. “[Jeff] is continuing to grow as a quarterback and I felt like his pocket presence was solid.”
Things got a little crazy in the last ten minutes of the game as both teams had chances in the red zone. The Trojans couldn’t capitalize on punter’s Niko Afuola’s 37-yard fourth-down run, in which he dropped the snap, yet had the moxie to sprint down the left sideline for the big gain.
The Wildcats defense would later force the Trojans to turn over the ball on downs, and would be in position to take advantage of the opportunity and win their first game of the season.
With St. Ignatius in business at the Trojan 40-yard-line, Brisbane took a hand-off and seemed to be tackled in the backfield, but somehow broke free a for a dazzling 40-yard touchdown, yet was negated due to an illegal block.
“I didn’t see it as I was looking down field, but my coaches didn’t think we did anything wrong,” Bluford said. “Hey, the referees said they saw it and it’s their job to call it. We had our chances today.”
Despite the touchdown reversal, the Wildcats would grind down to the Trojan 16-yard-line, only to see kicker Will McKee’s 32-yard field goal miss wide left with 3:19 left in the game.
Murphy and the rest of his team felt a bit awkward about the result, but realized it was a step up from last week’s opening loss to Marin Catholic.
The Wildcats will have a short week to prepare for next week’s showdown against Bishop O’Dowd, as the schedule doesn’t get any easier for St. Ignatius.
“Our defense buckled down and it was a nice way to bounce back, but we should have won this game,” said Murphy. “We’ll bounce back and just get ready for [Bishop O’Dowd].”
SI: 4:57 — Zac Schuller 10-yard run (Will McKee kick)
M: 9:01 — Rodney McKenzie 46-yard pass from Tony Saucedo (Garcia kick)
M: 5:52 — McKenzie 35-yard pass from Saucedo (Garcia Kick)
SI: 10:23 — Brisbane 30-yard run (McKee kick)