By Jeremy Balan
SAN JOSE – There was no panic in the St. Ignatius football team when it trailed Mitty 22-17 late in the fourth quarter of the Central Coast Section Open Division semifinal.
After a magical trip to the CCS Division III championship last season, the Wildcats are battle tested in tight playoff games, and it showed in their 25-22 win on Saturday night at Independence High School.
Junior running back Elijah Dale scored from 15 yards out with 2:33 remaining to put the sixth-seeded Wildcats (9-3) up for good, but the St. Ignatius defense still had to hold a Mitty offense that had been moving the ball well all night.
The Wildcats even saw their defensive leader, senior middle linebacker Noah Bull, go down with a calf cramp with 1:50 left and the Monarchs on their own 36-yard line.
But Bull returned four plays later, with Mitty (8-4) on the St. Ignatius 49-yard line facing third-and-10.
Senior safety Jack McGovern broke up the next passing play, then, on fourth down, Bull made a game-clinching tackle on Mitty quarterback Wyatt Hansen 3 yards in the backfield.
“Our defensive end kept contain and it was a great play by our defensive line,” Bull said. “First, I had to read the fullback in the backfield, so I’m just sitting there and the [quarterback] had some big runs before, so I knew they were probably going to run it with him.”
The Wildcats largely struggled to hold down the Mitty option run attack, but did enough in moments to keep themselves in the game.
The SI defense held the Monarchs scoreless on five drives into St. Ignatius territory (three turnovers on downs and two missed field goals) and the biggest stop set up the game-winning drive.
After Mitty came up with a crucial stop of its own, holding the Wildcats on 4th-and-goal with 10:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Monarchs nearly bled the clock dry with a 7-minute, 15-play drive down to the St. Ignatius 27-yard line.
Facing 4th-and-15, the Monarchs lined up for a 43-yard field goal, but the kick was blocked by senior lineman Kevin Sullivan and the Wildcats got the ball back on their own 36-yard line with 2:53 remaining.
It took just two plays for St. Ignatius to get deep into Mitty territory, after a quick-strike completion from quarterback Jack Stinn to Joe Lang, a 20-yard scramble by Stinn and a late-hit penalty on Mitty.
Dale then took a delayed handoff from Stinn and scampered through a gaping hole for the game-winning touchdown. Only up by one point after the score, Dale then took a pitch from Stinn and threw to a wide-open Andrew Vollert to give the Wildcats a crucial three-point lead.
But there was still more than enough time for Mitty to strike back, until the Wildcats’ final defensive stand.
“Obviously, we wanted to finish with the ball, but at the same time, we’re down and we want to get in the end zone,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “I don’t know if we were worried, but our players on the sideline knew that we could end the game on defense.”
Although the Wildcats struggled to establish the run (Dale led the team with 54 yards on 15 carries), Stinn continued his impressive play of late and found another offensive weapon against the Monarchs. Stinn totaled 189 yards on 13-of-20 passing, mostly on short-route completions to Lang, who finished with 118 yards on six receptions.
Lang was elusive in gaining key yardage after the catch and left several Mitty defenders grasping at air. The shifty junior also had a 32-yard run on a wide receiver reverse that set up Stinn’s 6-yard strike to tight end Nik Bell, which gave the Wildcats a 17-16 lead with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
“They were playing pretty deep in their coverage, especially with their safeties, and deep routes take longer to develop, so we just stayed underneath,” Stinn said. “Joe Lang had a hell of a game. Joe just makes guys miss. The reverse was sick.”
The Monarchs ran for 382 yards, which was alone more than St. Ignatius’ 340 yards of total offense, and with top-seeded Bellarmine awaiting in the championship game next week, stopping the run will almost surely be a point of emphasis for the Wildcats.
That will come later, though. For now, the Wildcats are just happy to play another week.
“I know for next week, we’re going to want to shut down the run game and have less rushing yards,” Bull said. “But right now, I’m just happy we won. I’m really not concerned about that.”
M: 6:24 – Andrew Scott 16-yard pass from Wyatt Hansen (Phil Langlois kick)
SI: 1:23 – Brian Wollitz 3-yard run (Michael Capitolo kick)
SI: 0:18 – Capitolo 24-yard field goal
M: 0:00 – Langlois 49-yard field goal
M: 5:04 – Daniel Mosko 6-yard run (kick failed)
SI: 2:44 – Nik Bell 6-yard pass from Jack Stinn (Capitolo kick)
M: 0:32 – Mosko 3-yard run (conversion failed)
SI: 2:33 – Elijah Dale 15-yard run (Andrew Vollert pass from Dale on conversion)