ST. IGNATIUS — Six straight losses. Three by seven points or fewer. Three to reigning state champions. The St. Ignatius football team hasn’t had much to celebrate this season, other than arguably the strongest schedule in the state of California. Being the best winless team in the state is an ignominious honor.
A week after a narrow loss to Sacred Heart Cathedral in the Bruce-Mahoney game at Kezar Stadium last Friday, on Saturday there was singing in the Wildcats locker room. Senior team captain Mark Biggins’s voice quivered.
“Man, it meant a lot, it meant a whole lot to us,” said Biggins. “We lost last week in a heartbreaking game. Then, we came out and put a good working week in. Everyone was hungry.”
With three fourth-quarter scores — two by Biggins — against Archbishop Mitty, St. Ignatius gave itself hope. With a 38-24 comeback win, the Wildcats need just two wins in their next three games to back into the playoffs.
“They’ve been working and really staying the course, focused on our goals from Day One, and that really has not changed,” said head coach John Regalia. “It’s very easy for that to change in situations like this, when we’re not seeing success on the scoreboard, or we’re so close and playing great teams and we’re competitive and not getting over the hump.”
At the end of the third quarter, St. Ignatius (1-6, 1-3 in WCAL) trailed 21-10, the result of two misplays that led directly to Monarch touchdowns. With 3.1 seconds left before halftime, dual-threat quarterback Shamir Bey fired deep middle to Reymello Murphy at the 15. Murphy reached out to his left with his right hand as the defense flowed to the ball, and both he and Jahsai Shannon tipped the ball back to the right. Murphy recovered and made for the front right corner of the end zone for the score.
“Our players have the maturity to understand the big picture,” Regalia said. “While we’re competing, when we’re working during the week at practice and training in the offseason, we really stress the big picture, and what that picture looks like for us. We obviously want to make a play at the end of the half, but we also understand the bigger picture. One play in that situation doesn’t win the game, so we’ve got to make sure we stay the course.”
On Mitty’s first drive of the second half Bey evaded a tackle by sophomore MIKE linebacker Siaki Gallegos-Hunkin on his first run of the day for a 25-yard gain. One play later, Bey trotted into the end zone to put the Monarchs up 21-10.
Then, with one minute to go in the third quarter, Gallegos-Hunkin — called up to varsity just two weeks ago and given all the responsibilities of calling plays on defense — stepped in front of a Bey pass at the Mitty 45 and returned it 23 yards.
“Last week was his first game, and he came out playing like a seasoned vet,” Biggins said.
“He had some great tackles in the run game,” Regalia said of Gallegos-Hunkin. “He’s ready for the challenge at this level. We’ve seen it the last two weeks … Instinctually, physically, it’s not just that, but it’s about his ability to manage the details, whether it’s position details, situational details, his football IQ has kept building and growing.”
Quarterback Zach Taylor-Smith tossed a lateral to wide receiver Danny Burke, who heaved it down field to tight end Bryan Blake for a 28-yard touchdown. It would be the first of three straight Wildcats scores.
Senior Jack Hagfeldt, playing with an injured hand, broke up a 25-yard heave from Bey on third-and-8 on the next drive, forcing a punt. Two plays into St. Ignatius’s ensuing drive, Taylor-Smith hit Biggins on a wheel route at the 20, and he ran untouched the rest of the way with 9:57 to go to give the Wildcats the lead with the 57-yard score.
“I just saw a whole lot of green,” Biggins said. “That’s all it was, a whole lot of green.”
After Hagfeldt nearly picked off a deep second-and-15 pass from Bey on the Monarchs’ next drive, junior Teddye Buchanan jumped a slant route and returned it 16 yards with 9:13 to go, setting up a Shannon 13-yard touchdown run.
“I thought Jack Hagfeldt played a great game at corner,” Regalia said. “They have some very good athletes, and he was tested. He kept responding, and got better over the course of the game.”
Buchanan provided pressure on Bey on fourth-and-8 on the next Mitty drive, forcing an incompletion. Four plays later, Biggins found paydirt again with a 29-yard touchdown run.
“My line, we work that every single day at practice,” Biggins said. “Same exact thing in practice.”
Mitty (4-3, 2-2) would score on a 22-yard field goal with 3:46 to go, but Taylor-Smith fell on the onside kick, and the Wildcats ground clock, kneeling out the victory at the Monarchs’ 30.
“Everybody was just happy, ecstatic,” said Biggins, who finished with a pick, a breakup, 72 rushing yards on nine carries and three catches for 60 yards. “One thing that we focused on was to put in a complete game. We felt like we hadn’t done that until now. We finally came out hot, and we decided to finish.”
-Taylor-Smith completed all seven passes he attempted for a total of 136 yards and a touchdown.
-Bey went 17-for-31 for 255 yards, including a 73-yarder in the fourth quarter that set up the field goal. Mark Stephens stopped receiver Joseph Vaughn short of the end zone and the Wildcats made a stand at the 5-yard line to hold the Monarchs to three.
-Bey rushed four times for 33 yards.
-Shannon finished with 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
-For the Wildcats to make the postseason, they need rival Sacred Heart Cathedral to beat Mitty next week, and then have to beat two of San Mateo-Serra, Bellarmine and Archbishop Riordan. The Padres were shocked by Valley Christian this week, and will likely come out firing next week against St. Ignatius.