Looking back at a banner year for St. Ignatius football

With the sports world on hold, fans are trying to stay sane by reaching into the memory banks to relive great moments.

With the sports world on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, fans are trying to stay sane by reaching into the memory banks to relive great moments. While the high school season has gone on a lengthy hiatus, there’s plenty of time to look back on what was a memorable year in San Francisco.

For more than a decade, The City’s three members of the West Catholic Athletic League have largely been an afterthought in football, getting rolled over constantly by Serra, St. Francis and the three San Jose schools. That changed in 2019, with the St. Ignatius Wildcats claiming their first league championship since 2006.

From season’s start, it was clear that things were going to be different in the Sunset District. J.B. Murphy Field, usually home to low attendance, was packed for a 23-7 win over Palo Alto in which Teddye Buchanan ran for a touchdown, threw for another and had a strip sack and fumble recovery, all within a four-minute stretch.

“It’s really fun to play in front of all our classmates, all our parents, all the alumni,” Buchanan said following the win. “The administration did a really great job getting fans out here.”

Two weeks later, Buchanan was at it again in a win over Gonzaga Prep, ensuring that the Bullpups wouldn’t forget his name after he threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more. Following a bye week, it was 100 passing yards from Buchanan, 87 from Zach Taylor-Smith, who he split time with, and 76 rushing yards from Joe Celentano that propelled the Wildcats to a 28-14 Bruce-Mahoney Game victory over Sacred Heart Cathedral, their first triumph over the Fightin’ Irish since 2016.

For most of the past decade, games against crosstown rivals SHC and Riordan would be the pinnacle for the Wildcats, who would get routinely walloped by the rest of the WCAL, but SI opened eyes in a loss a week later. Facing a Valley Christian team that had won each of the last four head-to-head meetings by at least 24 points, the Wildcats held the lead into the fourth quarter before finally falling 17-7. Perhaps the most telling measure of SI’s abilities that day came from the postgame quotes.

“We didn’t come here to play close,” head coach John Regalia said. “We come here to win, and we’re disappointed we didn’t come away with it today.”

A week later, the Wildcats showed that their high expectations were within reason as they beat St. Francis for the first time since 2012, a 35-26 victory. That win was the first one in which the Wildcats were able to utilize every weapon, reintroducing Jahsai Shannon after the running back’s family had moved back to the Bay Area. With him and Celentano running behind Buchanan and Taylor-Smith, defenses couldn’t just focus on electrifying wide receiver Danny Ryan.

The extra opportunities for Ryan were on display the next week against Bellarmine, as the league’s top receiver turned in his single best performance with 11 catches for 147 yards and three touchdowns. He tied the league’s record for receptions in a season with eight in a victory over Mitty where Taylor-Smith directed the offense while Buchanan nursed a quadriceps injury, and he broke it with the first of his nine receptions a week later in a 14-13 victory over Serra, the Wildcats’ first defeat of the Padres since 2005.

It was a game that’ll live on in SI lore, capped off with Jafer Snipes’ tackle at the goal line as the Padres went for a two-point conversion with 1:05 left after a roughing the kicker penalty on what would have been the game-tying extra point. After the referees and Serra coaches huddled together for what seemed like an eternity, the Padres decided to take the kick off the board and try to go the yard-and-a-half needed for the lead. Snipes, who had been flagged for the penalty, kept his team in front, and Mike Harrison recovered the onside kick to seal the win.

The celebrations that followed were a fitting end to a regular season in which the Wildcats not only claimed their first league title in over a decade, but also reinvigorated support from a community in which football had largely become an afterthought.

“It’s the administration saying, ‘how can we celebrate our community together?’” Regalia said. “Coming to a football game is one way, going to the fall play is another. There’s a lot of things that our administration is trying to wrap us around, and that’s just a community trying to support each other.”

The bond between the school and team didn’t end there, as the students came out in droves for a CCS quarterfinal win over Mitty a week later and a sizable contingent took buses down to Valley Christian for what would turn out to be an injury-laden semifinal loss. Even then, the buzz surrounding the team wouldn’t die down. When the Wildcats and Padres got together on the basketball court, fans sported football jerseys to remind their rivals of the 14-13 win.

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