Amid swirling winds, mounting frustrations and minor regrets, had almost recovered all the ground it had lost against St. Ignatius until Wildcats quarterback Eric Williams took it away.
With a six-point lead, Williams had the unenviable task of digging his team out of a third-and-16 hole at St. Ignatius’ 14-yard line with 5:36 left in the fourth quarter.
If he failed, Mentor’s suddenly hot offense might have spelled certain doom for the Wildcats, especially after the Cardinals had just drawn within a score.
But with a 17-yard strike to Jake Mooney, Williams ended all of Mentor’s dreams and doubts and halted the Cardinals' season, 23-17, in the Division I, Region 1 final at Lakewood Stadium on Saturday night.
After the big reception, Wildcats running back Tim McVey pounded out the remaining yards to finish off a 167-yard night on 38 carries. St. Ignatius (11-2), ranked sixth in the state, avenged its 38-24 loss to the Cardinals in Week 3 and will face No. 2 Toledo Whitmer in the Division I state semifinals.
While Williams’ numbers weren’t the stuff of legend, he was nonetheless responsible for all of the Wildcats’ touchdowns. He finished the night with 10-of-23 passing for 121 yards and an interception. But he had two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown.
Mentor head coach football Steve Trivisonno felt the conditions hampered much of the Cardinals’ five-wide receiver, empty-backfield strategy.
“I don’t think (St. Ignatius) changed much as much as it was difficult to throw,” Trivisonno said. “You get here and there’s a 30 mile an hour wind in your face for two straight quarters and that made it tough. And they did a nice job controlling the ball in the end.”
The Cardinals, ranked fifth, had earned national rankings and were ranked No. 1 in the state and first in the Plain Dealer’s Top 25 poll for good parts of the season. They finished at 11-2.
Mitch Trubisky, who earlier this week was named the Division I offensive player of the year for the 2011 Associated Press Northeast Lakes All-District football team, had arguably his worst night of the season.
The junior quarterback went 12-for-28 passing for 189 yards with an interception and a touchdown. Trubisky was sacked four times and netted minus-16 rushing yards.
In the Week 3 matchup, Trubisky piled up 553 yards of offense against the Wildcats and scored five touchdowns, including two rushing and three throwing scores.
“I thought we played our hearts out tonight. They’re a great team, but it just didn’t seem real what was happening on the field. It felt like it was a little out of my own control with the wind conditions,” Trubisky said. “The defense did a hell of a job … We played as a team; we came up short.”
Despite a St. Ignatius’ blitzing defense that harassed him all night and winds that blew many of his passes here, there and everywhere, Trubisky stilled himself and delivered his lone touchdown throw at just the right time for the Cardinals.
Down, 23-10, midway through the fourth quarter, the Wildcats lined up for a field goal on fourth-and-4 from the Cardinals’ 25, but holder Chad Aerni took the snap and calmly flipped the ball over his shoulder to a sprinting Tim Shenk as the kicker attempted to run for a first down.
But the Cardinals halted Shenk short of a first down to regain possession. After a pass interference penalty, Trubisky found a leaping Connor Krizancic four plays later for a 32-yard TD pass and put the Cardinals within a score at 6:27.
The Cardinals desperately needed the ball again for one more score, and after a holding penalty set the Wildcats back, it appeared Mentor’s chance might come, but Williams’ pass effectively ended the drama.
St. Ignatius head football coach Chuck Kyle said the team adjusted its strategy from its first unsuccessful encounter with Mentor on Sept. 9 with more blitzes and man-to-man coverage behind it.
“Our defensive coaches did an amazing job in preparing them with blitzes, to get as many blitzes as we could come up with and look for ones we thought were effective. We were just trying to upset their rhythm a little bit because when they get in rhythm, they’re awesome,” Kyle said.
St. Ignatius dominated the time of possession owning the ball for 29:44 to Mentor’s 18:16 for the game, and the Wildcats’ game-opening drive illustrated this trend, although a turnover plagued it.
With McVey pounding away behind St. Ignatius’ massive offensive line, the Wildcats marched to the Cardinals’ 30 until McVey put it on the ground and an alert Nick Kirschner scooped it up and ran it back to St. Ignatius’ 28.
Six plays later, Tomislav Derezic’s 32-yard field goal put the Cardinals up, 3-0, at 6:46 of the first quarter.
With another dominant drive in the second quarter, Williams found receiver Connor Hennessey for an 8-yard TD pass to take a 7-3 lead at 9:33.
Derezic, who made the AP first team as a punter, had as much trouble with the wind as Trubisky and set up St. Ignatius with good field position often and crucially so towards the end of the first half.
With the Cardinals backed up at their 19, Derezic’s boot traveled 11 yards. After a false start, Williams promptly converted Mentor’s misfortune with a 35-yard TD pass to Mooney with 45 seconds remaining. That gave the Wildcats a 13-3 lead as the extra-point attempt didn’t get off the ground.
In the second half, Shenk’s 25-yard field goal capped off an 11-play drive to put the Wildcats up, 16-3, at 3:56 of the third quarter.
Mentor immediately rallied with a scoring drive that featured Cameron Kavan snaring a 26-yard pass on a fourth-and-9 that put them at the Wildcats’ 20. Shortly thereafter, Kavan took a pitch from Trubisky from 3 yards out and skipped just inside the pylon to pull the Cardinals to 16-10 with 42 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Cardinals attempted an onside kick that St. Ignatius recovered, but Mentor’s defense tightened and forced the Wildcats to punt after three plays. After a touchback put the ball at the 20, a loose exchange between Warren Ashton and Trubisky caused a fumble that the Wildcats recovered.
With a short field, Williams punched it in the end zone on a quarterback sneak for a 23-10 lead at 10:22.
St. Ignatius 0 13 3 7 23
Mentor 3 0 7 7 17
Mentor – Derezic 32 field goal
St. Ignatius – Hennessey 8 pass from Williams (Shenk kick)
St. Ignatius – Mooney 35 pass from Williams (kick failed)
St. Ignatius – Shenk 25 field goal
Mentor – Kavan 3 run (Derezic kick)
St. Ignatius – Williams 1 run (Shenk kick)
Mentor – Krizancic 32 pass from Trubisky (Derezic kick)