By Jeremy Balan
The biggest moment of the football game between eternal City rivals Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Ignatius didn’t make sense, but it had the most important aspect of of any play call – it worked.
With the game tied at 21-21 with 16 seconds left in the second quarter, St. Ignatius called its final timeout of half, setting up a third-and-goal situation from the Sacred Heart 9-yard line.
Instead of calling a passing play, which would stop the clock on an incomplete pass and allow for a last-second field goal, the Wildcats dialed up a running play – a toss to junior running back Elijah Dale.
Knowing that getting stopped before the goal line would end the half and halt the scoring opportunity, Dale was hit at the 2-yard line by a group of Irish defenders, but powered forward for what ended up being the game-winning score in St. Ignatius’ 35-21 West Catholic Athletic League win on Friday at Kezar Stadium, giving the Wildcats the first leg of the Bruce-Mahoney series.
“We had confidence in the play call and our guys running it,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “It was a great way to finish the half and we always talk about how important it is to do that. It was a big one.”
With the lead after a seesaw first half, which saw the Irish (1-4, 0-2) pull ahead 21-14 on junior running back Brett Rasso’s second touchdown midway through the second quarter, the Wildcats (4-1, 2-0) employed an eerily-familiar game plan after the break.
Just like the Central Coast Section Division III championship against the Irish last season, St. Ignatius began to pound the ball in the running game, and senior quarterback Jack Stinn attempted two passes in the second half.
But unlike last week against Valley Christian, in which junior running back Elijah Dale had 38 carries, the Wildcats had a two-headed rushing attack against the Irish.
Dale still led the way with a game-high 192 yards on 27 carries and had the crucial score in the final seconds of the second quarter, but senior Albert Waters, who didn’t have a single carry against Valley Christian, added 129 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
“It felt great,” Waters said. “The offensive line had an amazing game for the second week in a row, and whether I get carries or not, it all depends on them. It was our last Bruce, so we wanted to give everyone what they wanted.”
The Wildcats ran for 305 yards and had most of their success out of a backfield formation that featured junior Stephan Ostrowski and senior Blaise Ducharme, normally an offensive lineman, both lined up as fullbacks in front of either Dale or Waters.
“We call that the jumbo [formation], because we have our big man in there,” Waters said. “They just push forward and we ride their ass . . . We talked about it the whole week. We watched film from last year and and it worked, so why go away from it?”
The Wildcats extended their lead on Waters’ second touchdown run with 2:08 remaining in the third quarter, but it was the St. Ignatius defense that put the game away.
St. Ignatius outgained the Irish 457-203 and held down every Sacred Heart player except for Rasso, who ran for a team-high 132 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
In the first half, Rasso accounted for 99 of Sacred Heart’s 101 yards of total offense.
“He’s that much of an integral part of our system,” Sacred Heart head coach John Lee said of Rasso. “We can throw the ball to him, we can run the ball with him, we can put him in the backfield, he returns punts and he’s just a great kid. He’s just a ballplayer.”
Even with the disparity in yardage, the Irish were never more than two scores behind in the second half and had two drives stall in St. Ignatius territory in the fourth quarter.
The second drive concluded at the 3:29 mark on another big play by Waters.
On fourth-and-3 from the Wildcats’ 26-yard line, Sacred Heart senior quarterback Jerry Peralta dropped back and appeared to be in the grasp of two St. Ignatius defenders, but escaped from the pocket and rolled to the right. Waters, the cornerback on the right side, left his receiver and broke toward Peralta. Seeing the open receiver, Peralta released the ball, but Waters leapt up and deflected it away.
“It looked like he was sacked, but he came right,” Waters said. “I left my guy and he was open, but when he threw the ball, I knew I had to make a play, otherwise that’s a touchdown.”
The Wildcats significantly outgained the Irish in the first half and got two touchdowns through the air from Stinn, who threw for 152 yards on 10-of-16 passing, but the Irish kept making plays to stay in the game.
Rasso broke a 51-yard run to set up his own touchdown run on the same drive to knot the game at 7-7 late in the first quarter, then Kelvin Sanders followed Waters’ first score with a 96-yard return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff early in the second to tie the game again at 14-14, and the Irish capitalized on a Stinn interception (picked off by Peralta) with another rushing touchdown from Rasso, this time from 20-yards out, to take a 21-14 lead.
“It’s a tough loss. I don’t care what anyone says, because it is a big game and a big rivalry,” Lee said. “But they have no reason to have their heads down. They were right in the thick of this. The effort was there. There is no quit in these guys.”
SI: 4:37 – Matt Emery 40-yard pass from Jack Stinn (Michael Capitolo kick)
SH: 2:05 – Brett Rasso 5-yard run (Maxwell Tenhoff kick)
SI: 10:00 – Albert Waters 1-yard run (Capitolo kick)
SH: 9:46 – Kelvin Sanders 96-yard kickoff return (Tenhoff kick)
SH: 7:27 – Rasso 20-yard run (Tenhoff kick)
SI: 3:34 – Andrew Vollert 19-yard pass from Stinn (Capitolo kick)
SI: 0:09 – Elijah Dale 9-yard run (Capitolo kick)
SI: 2:08 – Waters 2-yard run (Capitolo kick)