By Jeremy Balan
With a shot at a West Catholic Athletic League title on the line Saturday, the St. Ignatius football team broke the cardinal rule of playing against Bellarmine.
You can’t play from behind against the Bells.
The Wildcats scored first in a matchup of unbeaten WCAL squads, but allowed the Bells to score 21 unanswered points in the second quarter and did not see the lead again in a 35-28 home loss.
St. Ignatius (6-2, 4-1) got within a score with 3:56 remaining in the fourth quarter on the second touchdown pass from quarterback Jack Stinn to Andrew Vollert, but the Bells recovered the ensuing onside kick and got back to what they do best – eating up the clock.
The Bells (7-1, 5-0) ran nine consecutive rushing plays, picked up three first downs and kneeled on the final play to end the game. St. Ignatius outscored Bellarmine 21-14 in the second half, but the Bells had possession for over 19 of the 24 minutes of game time after the halftime break, behind their nearly unstoppable double-wing offense.
“They know what we’re going to run, so we just gotta execute it,” said Bellarmine head coach Mike Janda. “Our guys did it. They stayed in there tough . . . We had to control the ball, because we didn’t want to give it back to them. They’re too explosive.”
The reason for Janda’s apprehension was the St. Ignatius offense that emerged in the second half. After struggling to sustain any offensive momentum in the first half (St. Ignatius only totaled 115 yards before the break), the Wildcats used several big plays to get back into the game.
The biggest plays came from St. Ignatius senior Albert Waters, who answered a Bellarmine score that extended the Bells’ lead to 28-14 with an 80-yard touchdown run with 2:37 remaining in the third quarter. After another Bellarmine score extended the lead again to two scores, Waters caught a picture-perfect pass from Stinn on third-and-25 for a first down to set up the Wildcats’ final score. Waters also had two interceptions on defense.
“We would have been scared to death if they got the ball one more time,” Janda said. “One more pass was all it takes – [or] one run. They can score at any time.”
The Bells ran for 299 yards, led by 125 on 22 carries by senior Kenneth Olugbode, and Bellarmine junior quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels added 83 yards on 20 carries.
But the game, like the final drive, came down to the Wildcats stopping the double-wing attack, specifically on short, third-down situations. The Bells converted on 12-of-16 third downs, including 7-of-9 in the second half.
“We have to find ways to play defense and make our stops there . . . They made some plays when they needed to and we didn’t,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “That’s going to happen when you have a very good football team that is well-coached and well-prepared. They make plays in situations, and we have to respond and make plays in those situations.”
Stinn didn’t have a very accurate performance (he completed 12-of-28 passing attempts), but made plays with his arm and his feet at crucial moments. The senior left-hander ran for 55 yards on six carries and threw for 179 yards. Vollert was his favorite target, with 103 yards on six receptions.
“Our guys did a good job responding in the second half and that’s what we expect them to do,” Regalia said. “I’m proud of our guys for doing that, for sure.”
Although 16 of Stinn’s passes fell incomplete, the nagging issue of drops by St. Ignatius receivers reared its ugly head again. The Wildcats dropped five passes, including one that would have surely resulted in a touchdown.
SI: 8:24 – Andrew Vollert 15-yard pass from Jack Stinn (Michael Capitolo kick)
B: 10:48 – Joey Sanfilippo 38-yard pass from K.J. Carta-Samuels (kick failed)
B: 5:39 – Carta-Samuels 3-yard run (Kenneth Olugbode pass from Carta-Samuels on conversion)
B: 0:30 – Jared Vallner 35-yard pass from Carta-Samuels (Grant Bush kick)
SI: 6:32 – Elijah Dale 1-yard run (Capitolo kick)
B: 2:50 – Carta-Samuels 3-yard run (Bush kick)
SI: 2:37 – Albert Waters 80-yard run (Capitolo kick)
B: 6:48 – Sanfilippo 29-yard run (Bush kick)
SI: 3:56 – Vollert 3-yard pass from Stinn (Capitolo kick)