ST. IGNATIUS — After hanging with league favorite Valley Christian last week, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the St. Ignatius Wildcats managed to snap a six-year losing streak to St. Francis.
To do it by putting up more points than any WCAL team had scored on the Lancers in regulation since 2015, however, certainly turned a few heads.
With the return of junior running back Jahsai Shannon, who didn’t star but blended in with a talented cast of characters as one of many offensive weapons, the Wildcats opened up an early 21-0 lead and held on for a 35-26 win to establish themselves as a member of the upper class of the league, reeling of 430 yards of total offense.
On what was overall a remarkable day for the St. Ignatius offense, senior quarterback Teddye Buchanan had one of his best performances yet, throwing for two touchdowns and 203 yards while running for another 97 yards and two scores on the ground, even if he did finish the day a few pounds lighter than when he had started it.
On a key fourth-quarter drive where St. Ignatius (4-2, 2-1 WCAL) didn’t score but managed to take more than four minutes off the clock while nursing a two-score lead, Buchanan ran into one of his linemen, then vomited. Not even that could stop what was a rollicking offensive day, as Zach Taylor-Smith came in and immediately connected with Danny Ryan for a third-down conversion. Taylor-Smith wound up throwing for 81 yards on the day.
Shannon’s numbers weren’t anything spectacular — seven carries for 17 yards — but his two chain-moving runs on that Buchanan-less drive helped churn up clock to put the game away, and his presence alone was a game-changer.
“He’s a fantastic player who can do a lot of things,” Buchanan said of Shannon. “He can run, he can catch, he can potentially play defense too.”
Having returned from Las Vegas-Bishop Gorman to play his senior season with his classmates, Shannon’s presence in the backfield meant one less linebacker to use as a quarterback spy, opening up room for Buchanan to run 17 times on the day. Shannon also freed up fellow running backs Joe Celentano and Matt Silva, allowing Celentano to play linebacker more and keep Silva active on special teams.
“He just completely expanded our running back core,” Celentano said. “He made some really good plays even though he’s still getting to know the offense, so once he gets safe and sound with that, we’re going to really be unstoppable.”
Celentano had just four touches, but one of those was a 65-yard touchdown reception on a short pass to return momentum to the Wildcats after St. Francis (2-4, 1-2) had scored the final 13 points of the first half.
The Lancers took the opening kickoff of the second half 36 yards on a Camilo Arquette return, and reached the red zone before finally being stopped on fourth-and-one by a mix of Buchanan, Andrew Cummings and Seta Netane.
Buchanan ran three times on the ensuing drive, then hit a quick screen to Celentano, who got two defenders to miss and outraced a third who dove at the 10-yard line but came up empty, as the Wildcats regained a two-score advantage.
From there, the Lancers — who win on their run game and defense — were forced to play catch-up and air it out.
With Sacred Heart Cathedral transfer Ryan Daly nursing a shoulder injury, Joey Schott — who only played baseball last year and is committed to pitch at Baylor — made his second start at quarterback and held his own, going 18-for-26 for 291 yards. Carsten Rawls — a 6-foot-1, 200-pound wrestler — had five receptions for 144 yards and a score, and both Travis Bell-Dzide and sophomore tight end Dillon Golden each added three catches.
Still, the SI defense was able to hold, with the fourth-and-one stop to open the second half, a Buchanan fumble recovery already up 14-0 early in the second quarter and a turnover on downs at the Wildcat 36 to stop the opening Lancer drive. With St. Francis’ offense dead-set on avoiding Buchanan at all costs, Siaki Gallegos-Hunkin and senior DB Reade Hansen were able to shineon defense, with Hansen breaking up two would-be touchdown passes.
“Every day in practice, the scout team gave us great looks. Our preparation was key in our performance today,” said a bruised-yet-smiling Hansen, with bags of ice taped to his legs. “Matching up with big guys like their receivers comes down to technique. Coach Gustavo (Manzanares) and the safeties did a great job today.”
Hansen and the rest of the secondary mirrored the SI linemen by playing a strong game despite a massive size disadvantage. Buchanan was sacked just once by a defense with a handful of players over 300 pounds.
“We used our athleticism against their size,” said lineman Beau Gardner, who has a bevy of Division I offers as a long snapper. “We tried to tire them out by going fast and spreading the field. We held our own.”
Not only did the Wildcats hold their own, but they punched the Lancers in the mouth early. Ryan, who saw his streak of games with a touchdown end at five, returned the opening kickoff 31 yards, leading to a drive of just over two minutes that finished when Buchanan found a wide-open Danny Burke for a 25-yard touchdown. After stopping St. Francis on downs, the Wildcats drove right back down the field again, with a 26-yard completion to Mike Harrison setting up a three-yard Buchanan touchdown run. Buchanan’s fumble recovery in the second quarter set up a seven-yard Taylor-Smith touchdown run to go up 21-0.
Rawls’ touchdown reception and a one-yard Arquette touchdown run, set up by another 38-yard catch from Rawls, cut the lead to 21-13 before halftime, and momentum was clearly on the Lancers’ side after Kealan O’Connell’s 28-yard field goal to close the first half missed wide left.
Still, St. Ignatius got the stop to open the second half, regained control with the long Celentano touchdown and answered an ensuing six-minute St. Francis scoring drive with a Buchanan 26-yard touchdown run.
That drive — which put the Wildcats up 35-20 with 8:53 to go — was one of Buchanan’s best on the day, with an 18-yard completion to Shannon and a 16-yard pass to Ryan, who had five catches for 69 yards before coaching the senior powderpuff team to victory following the game.
Sophomore Juju Teu (17 carries-93 yards) scored just 92 seconds after Buchanan’s last touchdown, but the two-point conversion that would have gotten the Lancers within seven fell incomplete as Golden — a 6-foot-4 monster with a clear future playing Division I football — couldn’t get a foot down in the back of the end zone.
Trailing by two scores instead of putting all their hopes in saving the two-point conversion for a potential game-tying scenario, the Lancers weren’t able to get the defense off the field for almost five minutes, allowing SI to clinch the victory when a late 42-yard St. Francis field goal went wide left. Even if the kick was good, the Lancers would have still needed to recover an onside kick and drive more than half the field in 40 seconds, a testament to how convincing the Wildcats’ performance was.
“A lot of teams underestimate our physicality,” Gallegos-Hunkin said. “We can physically match up with any team in this league.”