ST. IGNATIUS — The chants were loud and clear as the St. Ignatius Wildcats ran out the final minutes of their CCS Quarterfinal win on Saturday.
“We want Valley,” the Red Sea student section chanted, with a few Valley Christian players who came out to scout their next opponent looking on, recording videos of the fans on their phones.
Sure enough, the third-seeded Wildcats will have their shot at the Warriors next Friday night in the CCS Division I Semifinals, looking to avenge their only WCAL loss after Joe Celentano and Jahsai Shannon ran roughshod over Mitty in Saturday’s quarterfinal en route to a comfortable 28-7 win, the program’s first postseason victory since 2014.
For all the talk of SI’s two-quarterback system, it was the one-two punch at running back that helped break the game open as the Wildcats rolled over the sixth-seeded Monarchs. Celentano and Shannon combined for 151 yards and three touchdowns, with each finding the end zone from at least 37 yards out in the first half.
St. Ignatius (9-2) opened up a three-score lead midway through the second quarter and hardly looked back. Having already beaten Mitty (6-5) two weeks earlier in WCAL play with both teams missing their starting quarterbacks, the Wildcats were able to once again limit the Monarchs to just seven points, even with quarterback Shamir Bey back in the fold.
“Before that (Nov. 1) game, I talked with Shamir and we said hopefully we’d see each other in the playoffs,” St. Ignatius QB Teddye Buchanan said.
Bey threw for 104 yards on 10-of-18 passing and ran for another 34, but aside from one 44-yard touchdown to Reymello Murphy in the third quarter, the visitors were unable to produce a single play of more than 13 yards.
“It just came through our preparation,” cornerback Reade Hansen said of the defensive effort. “All week we were studying route concepts and we pretty much knew what they would run in certain situations. From our situational awareness, we were able to take them out of the pass game completely. Everybody’s really smart in our secondary and we really key in on what we’re supposed to do.”
Even with Wildcats cornerback Chad Jensen still nursing a broken metacarpal and Mitty shuffling receivers through different spots, the Monarch passing attack was held in check. Murphy was held to three catches with 44 of his 62 yards coming on one play, Ian Collier was limited to 25 yards on three receptions and Connor Gambelin wasn’t even targeted at all.
Aside from Murphy’s touchdown, which cut the score to 21-7, and an opening drive on which the Monarchs got down to the SI 16 before missing a field goal, the defense put together a suffocating performance. Meanwhile, the offense put together one of its most dominant and methodical games as Celentano ripped off a 44-yard touchdown run with 3:32 left in the first quarter and Shannon scored from 37 yards out on the opening play of the second. Buchanan completed 16 of his 18 passes for 145 yards and ran for 65 more on 11 carries while Zach Taylor-Smith, spelling Buchanan in the latter parts of both halves, went 4-for-8 for another 47 yards.
While Mitty struggled to distribute the ball and get playmakers into the open field, the hosts would have no such trouble. Danny Ryan, who had 75 receptions in the regular season, including a WCAL-record 57 in league play, caught six more passes for 73 yards and Mike Harrison hauled in three for 42, including a 20-yard touchdown from Buchanan to make it 21-0.
“I just try to stay ready every single play,” said Harrison, who’s had a penchant for clutch receptions this season.
Celentano, who knocked a pass away in the end zone on defense, finished things off with a four-yard touchdown run on the last of his 14 carries, giving him 105 yards for the afternoon.
“We’ve got a special thing going,” Celentano said of his chemistry with Shannon, who added 46 yards on six runs.
Mitty had no such success running the ball until the second-stringers were in, getting held under 100 rushing yards until JV callups Taron Thang and Antonio Cabrera ripped off a few strong runs in the final minutes, leading a push to the red zone as time expired. The incomplete pass in the end zone was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but it marked the fifth time this year the Wildcats have managed to keep a foe in single-digits. Facing a Valley Christian team that hasn’t allowed more than 12 points in a game this year next Friday, the defense will need to be at its best once more.