By Jeremy Balan
The St. Ignatius football team probably deserves a home game for its Central Coast Section Open Division semifinal matchup against Mitty on Saturday, but the Wildcats are more than comfortable on the road.
St. Ignatius, the sixth seed in the tournament, will make the hour drive from the Sunset to take on seventh-seeded Mitty in its own back yard at Independence High School in San Jose on Saturday night.
All other CCS divisions give the better seed a home game in the semifinals, but due to the attendance draw of the Open, its semifinals are both being played at the neutral site of Independence.
St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia shrugged off the significance of the game’s location and probably has good reason to. The Wildcats have played eight of their 11 games away from their 37th Avenue campus, including a 49-14 drubbing of third-seeded Palma in Salinas in the first round of the playoffs.
“We’re just excited to still be playing,” Regalia said. “That’s our focus.”
The Open is an entirely different animal than the Division III tournament the Wildcats won last season, but like last year, St. Ignatius appears to be hitting its stride in the postseason.
The brightest spot for the Wildcats has been senior quarterback Jack Stinn, who had his best game of the season against Palma last week, totaling 190 yards and three touchdowns on 9-of-10 passing to go along with 68 yards rushing on eight carries.
Stinn had another accurate day in the final game of the regular season against Mitty on a gusty afternoon at St. Ignatius, completing 8-of-12 passes for 128 yards.
“There’s no question Jack has continued to grow as a leader all season,” Regalia said. “With Jack, he’s always been there in that area of leadership and he showed great signs of that even a year ago. Put that leadership on the field, with his ability, and it’s been great to see that growth.”
The Wildcats also got a lift from the return of junior fullback Brian Wollitz last week, who was a two-way starter at the beginning of the season. In SI’s season opener against Marin Catholic, Wollitz dislocated his elbow and did not return until the Palma game last week. Wollitz still hasn’t returned to the defense, where he was a linebacker, but ran for 24 yards and a touchdown on seven carries against the Chieftains, and aided junior running back Elijah Dale, who ran for 116 yards, in the running game.
“What was special for Brian was to just get back out there and play,” Regalia said. “It didn’t matter if he scored. He’s been a great presence even though he hasn’t been suited up. It’s great to see a guy return from injury — to put the work in and rehab — when we didn’t even know if he was going to come back at all this season. It’s a great thing.”
Though the St. Ignatius offense was impressive against Palma, it’s been the defense in recent weeks that may be most encouraging for the SI faithful.
The Wildcats allowed 271 yards of offense against Palma, but much of the yardage came late in the fourth quarter with the game decided. The St. Ignatius stop unit was even better against Mitty in the final game of the regular season (a 21-6 SI win), limiting the Monarchs’ option offense to 19 rushing plays of 1 yard or less, including eight for negative yardage.
“I thought we did a nice job of playing a complete game,” Regalia said of the first meeting with Mitty. “The defense played well and Mitty has a lot of weapons on offense. They can get the ball to different spots on the field with those athletes.”
Playing the same opponent twice in three weeks is somewhat of a double-edged sword for the St. Ignatius coaching staff, especially against a West Catholic Athletic League opponent. The Wildcats know what they’re getting against Mitty, but the Monarchs have the same advantage, as well as the previous loss to motivate them.
“We already know what we did the first time around and we’ve prepared for each other already,” Regalia said. “We need to prepare as if we hadn’t played them two weeks ago.”