ST. IGNATIUS — An hour after their 14-13 win over the Serra Padres, the St. Ignatius Wildcats were still in their locker room, surrounded by their parents, friends and well wishers.
Considering the ride they’ve been on, it would be hard to blame them for wanting to soak it in.
Led by a quarterback who missed half of last season with a broken hand and a record-setting wide receiver who didn’t even play last year, and one year removed from winning just three games, the Wildcats took down one of their biggest rivals for the first time since 2005 and won a share of the West Catholic Athletic League championship for the first time since 2006.
“Our core values allow us to have a very strong foundation,” head coach John Regalia said. “We’re seeing that come out on the field.”
St. Ignatius (8-2, 6-1 in WCAL) won with two first-half touchdowns and a stop on a two-point conversion after Serra (9-1, 6-1 WCAL) had appeared to tie the game, then took the extra point off the board and went for the win following a roughing the kicker penalty. Jafer Snipes, who was flagged on the extra point, teamed up with Beau Gardner to stop Nate Sanchez short of the goal line to keep St. Ignatius in front, and Mike Harrison calmly recovered the ensuing onside kick to set off a wild celebration for the home crowd.
“We were just playing with heart,” Gardner said. “We knew when they moved the ball to the one-and-a-half-yard line, it was gonna be our 11 against their 11.”
The group of multi-sport athletes, many lacrosse players by trade, took down a previously-undefeated team with two NorCal titles and a state championship over the last four years. The biggest crowd to pack J.B. Murphy since 2014 witnessed a game for the ages, with many celebrating on the field and in the locker room over the following hour.
“It’s the administration saying, ‘How can we celebrate our community together?’” Regalia said of the crowd. “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.”
Danny Ryan might have been the best representation of what the Wildcats have been able to do this year. At this time in 2018, he was gearing up for basketball season with lacrosse on the horizon, casually attending a few football games and looking on from the stands as his school dropped six straight games to start the year en route to a second consecutive three-win season.
In his senior year, Ryan’s been the top receiver on a team that’s exceeded its win total from the past two years combined. In a year where he’s impressed at every turn, Saturday was perhaps his finest game yet. Matched up with a secondary that includes Terence Loville — who’s drawing interest from multiple Mountain West schools — and Washington State commit Jackson Lataimua.
Ryan pulled in nine Teddye Buchanan passes for 121 yards and both St. Ignatius touchdowns, an eight-yard slant route in the first quarter and a 22-yard catch in the corner to open up a 14-0 lead with 7:08 left in the second, set up by his own 30-yard punt return. The nine catches gave Ryan 56 in seven WCAL games, 10 more than the previous league record.
“Teddye was able to throw great balls,” Ryan said.
After splitting time with Zach Taylor-Smith at quarterback for the first eight games and missing the ninth with a quadriceps injury, Buchanan had the reins for the entire afternoon on Saturday. Aside from special teams, he was on the field for every play and excelled, completing 19 of his 24 passes for 174 yards and gaining 56 more on the ground on 14 carries.
“I used last week as a chance to regenerate energy,” he said. “I did a lot of treatment over my personal bye week.”
The Wildcat defense made do even with cornerback Chad Jensen, out with a fractured metacarpal, holding the Padres to just 50 yards in the first half and making a stand in the red zone right away as kicker Damon Lewis recovered a Jahsai Shannon fumble on the game’s opening kickoff. Serra gained nine yards on three run plays, but a Snipes fumble recovery on fourth-and-1 sparked a 96-yard Wildcat drive for the game’s first score, with Buchanan gaining 27 yards on the ground and hooking up with Ryan three times for 41 yards, including the eight-yard touchdown.
Serra finally broke through on the opening possession of the third quarter, utilizing the double wing “Raider” formation that’s been so effective for them in short-yardage situations. Taken away from their usual passing attack ever since starting quarterback Daylin McLemore was injured, the Padres have relied on the mobility of sophomore Dominique Lampkin out of that double wing, which they’ve mixed in with their traditional spread offense. A 23-yard completion to Loville in the spread got them into St. Ignatius territory, and they returned to the Raider formation to get on the board on a one-yard Lataimua run.
With the Wildcats punting after one first down, the Padres looked to be in position to tie the game, quickly approaching midfield after carries by Hassan Mahasin and Sanchez. Buchanan stopped that momentum with a play that was lost in the later commotion but shouldn’t be overlooked, wrapping up Lampkin on a keeper for a three-yard loss. Lampkin gained seven on the next play and got free from Buchanan on third-and-six, but Snipes was on the spot to force a punt.
That punt — the fifth and last of the day for Lewis — set up a St. Ignatius drive that covered the final five minutes of the third quarter and nearly the first seven minutes of the fourth, yet ended without points despite Buchanan Ryan’s heroic efforts.
A gutsy call to keep the offense on the field on fourth-and-one at their own 27 paid off for the Wildcats on a Buchanan keeper that barely broke the line to gain, and Ryan’s 18-yard catch put him over the century mark on the day and brought the offense across midfield.
Ryan hauled in a seven-yard catch on another third down, and a screen to Shannon picked up 12 to set up first-and-goal. Shannon’s next run would be stuffed at the line by Will Mauer and Sioeli Helu, and St. Ignatius would only go backwards from there with a delay of game penalty and a move by Buchanan to avoid a sack that may have only cost them more yards, as he managed to get a pass away while being tackled, with Shannon catching it but losing eight yards as Helu swallowed him up.
After Ryan was overthrown in the end zone, Kealan O’Connell was brought on to try to open up a two-score lead with a 36-yard field goal attempt, but Sanchez tipped it at the line. Fortunately for the Wildcats, Loville tried to return the ball instead of letting the play end, and with a flag thrown after the whistle, the Padres were backed all the way up to their own three-yard line with 5:16 left.
After screens to Matt Rollandi and Sanchez gave the Padres some room, St. Ignatius nearly put the game away as Duke Reeder and Joe Celentano tackled Lampkin for a six-yard loss. On fourth-and-10 at the 13, the Padres called timeout with 4:11 left, sent out the punt team, then thought better of it and realized they might not get the ball back if they kicked it away, forcing them to use yet another timeout.
Finally, Lampkin scrambled to his left and managed to dive across the first down marker after Andrew Cummings tripped him up. The next three minutes would be a whirlwind, with a pair of 23-yard Loville catches and a third grab in between that Loville corralled with one hand.
Back-to-back screens to Mahasin, who had four catches on the day, took the Padres all the way to the St. Ignatius 10. Vince Poni — who was held to seven yards on the day — was stuffed on first-and-goal, but Lampkin gained four on his 13th and final carry of the day, then threw to Loville in the front corner of the end zone. Lewis drilled the extra point but was run into by Snipes.
Initially, the referees signaled that the penalty would be enforced on the kickoff, but Walsh informed them that he wanted to go for the lead. Bunched tight in the double wing, Sanchez took the handoff to the right but was met shy of the goal line by both Gardner and Snipes.
“We put in all our biggest guys and we were able to make a play,” Snipes said. “I just kept looking up at the scoreboard and saw that it didn’t go to 14, so I knew something was off.”
The postgame scenes, which featured a well-deserved rush of the field by St. Ignatius’ “Red Sea” student section, were a major change from the last 13 meetings with the Padres; the prior four had ended with a running clock.
A rematch could be in the works as the CCS Division I playoffs will feature St. Ignatius, Serra and fellow WCAL co-champion Valley Christian. Projections following Saturday’s game have Serra as the top seed and the Wildcats fourth, so the teams could meet again in just two weeks.