KEZAR STADIUM — Not only did the St. Ignatius Wildcats beat rival Sacred Heart Cathedral for the first time since 2016, they did so behind their best rushing performance of the year.
A team that had struggled to move the ball on the ground over its first three games, with quarterback scrambles serving as their main source of rushing yards, the Wildcats dominated both by land and through the air on Friday.
Joe Celentano, who missed most of his junior year with a back injury, ran for 76 yards on 16 carries in the 28-14 win, rounding out a St. Ignatius team that has excelled defensively and gained yards through the passing game, but had largely stalled on the ground up until Friday.
“I’ve just been getting used to running the ball again,” he said following the win. “Matt (Silva) and I were working really hard during the bye week, working on mesh plays with the quarterbacks and studying a lot.”
Celentano was so dominant that Silva had just four carries, but depth was nonetheless critical for St. Ignatius (3-1, 1-0 West Catholic Athletic League). With quarterback Teddye Buchanan also starring at linebacker, Zach Taylor-Smith was able to give him breaks, typically accompanied by Silva in the process. Buchanan completed eight of his 12 passes for 100 yards, while Taylor-Smith went 4-for-6 to gain 87.
As has been the case so far this year, SI was able to seamlessly transition through the two-quarterback system, which was made even more effective with Celentano churning up yards on the ground. The Wildcats had great field position on their first drive after Sacred Heart Cathedral (0-4, 0-1) bobbled the opening kickoff and went three-and-out, and Celentano gained 18 of the 27 yards on the drive himself, setting up first-and-goal with a 12-yard gain and then punching it in from two yards out. Another three-and-out set up an opportunity for another Widcat who hadn’t been heard from much in the first three weeks, tight end Marcelo Villavicencio, who started in place of the injured James Adams.
“We wouldn’t have asked him to do it if we didn’t think he could do it,” head coach John Regalia said of Villavicencio.
The senior hauled in a seven-yard pass from Buchanan for a third-down conversion, then was the recipient of a 16-yard touchdown to open up a two-score lead barely eight minutes into the game and giving SI another receiving threat in addition to Danny Ryan.
“He’s a shining star in our offense,” Villavicencio said of Ryan. “He opens up a lot of plays for other guys.”
Even with the Irish trying to keep him in tight coverage, Ryan shone under the lights and Golden Gate Park fog, with four catches for 66 yards, the first of which was a 23-yard score to open up a 21-7 lead after SHC had struck through the air early in the second quarter.
The Irish struggled mightily with efforts to move the ball on the ground, rushing for just 27 yards as a team, but they did manage to find some synchronicity in the passing game as Cian Dowling connected with five different receivers over the course of the night. The strongest of those connections was with Tyrice Ivy Jr., who missed the team’s first two games but has more than made up for lost time. He had seven catches for 126 yards on the night, including a 58-yard touchdown to open the second quarter and fire up the SHC crowd, which athletic director Jo Ann Momono noted was significantly larger than Irish Bruce-Mahoney crowds in prior years.
Dowling completed 14 of his 25 passes for 189 yards, but didn’t have the run game to complement his work through the air that Buchanan and Taylor-Smith did. The Ryan touchdown to answer the long strike to Ivy was set up by three Celentano runs, including a 23-yard gain to get the ‘Cats across midfield.
“Our run game has evolved over the course of these four games,” Regalia said. “I think some of that has to do with timing and getting a young offensive line together.”
The lead grew as large as 21 in the third quarter as Buchanan led a drive that covered 70 yards on 13 plays and ate up more than six minutes, with no gain longer than an 18-yard pass to Ryan. Penalties in the red zone extended the drive and ensured an SI touchdown rather than just a field goal to go up 17, as a roughing the passer flag gave the Wildcats a fresh set of downs before Buchanan scored on a one-yard run.
A Celentano interception at midfield three minutes into the fourth quarter all but sealed things, ensuring that Kyle Masangkay’s late six-yard touchdown run would do little more than change the final score.
“Our M.O. seems to be big play, negative play,” SHC head coach Barry McLaughlin said. “Until we figure it out, we’re going to be playing games like this.”
The Irish will try to snap their four-game losing streak next week at St. Francis (1-3, 0-1), an unenviable task. While it’ll be an uphill battle, it’ll be a great chance for Ivy and Dowling to show their skills against a program that prides itself on its defense. The Lancers lost on Friday, 28-7 to an undefeated Valley Christian team that will travel to St. Ignatius next Saturday.