Cleveland St. Ignatius took advantage of field position in the first half to build a two-touchdown lead and held on for a 24-14 win to end Olentangy Liberty’s best season in school history.
Patrick Ryan threw for a touchdown and ran for another and Mark Bobinski had a touchdown run and a couple of key punt returns to lead the Wildcats to a Division I state semifinal win Friday night at Arlin Field in Mansfield.
“Our kids never quit,” Patriots coach Steve Hale said. “(St. Ignatius is) just really good. The front six is as good as we’ve seen anywhere … ever. They’re just really strong, really good football players.”
The Wildcats had just about every advantage going for them coming in and used a field position edge to take control in the second quarter.
St. Ignatius, playing in its 15th state semifinal game, has won 11 state championships in its storied history. It was just the 15th playoff game in school history for the Patriots.
Wildcats coach Chuck Kyle has 334 victories, more than double the total games played by Liberty (155) since it opened in 2003.
St. Ignatius has 110 players on its roster, a far cry from the Lorain squad the Patriots beat last week that had only 26.
St. Ignatius (13-1) started on its 28 and 43 on its first two possessions, which each ended in missed field goals by Matthew Trickett (from 47 and 53 yards, respectively).
The Wildcats got it at the Liberty 44 on their third possession thanks to a 13-yard punt return by Bobinski.
Quarterback Patrick Ryan found Travis Pot on the next play on a fly route down the right sideline to put St. Ignatius in front 7-0 with 11:34 left in the first half.
Bobinski returned a punt 23 yards to set up another short field for the Wildcats on their ensuing possession — again at the Liberty 44 — and after Dean Stowers runs of 17 and 3 and a Ryan 13-yard scramble, Bobinski punched it in from a yard out to push the lead to 14-0 with 8:17 left in the half.
Meanwhile, Liberty started its first four drives at its own 20 and went three and out each time.
“It’s a long way to go — you gotta make a play in one of those situations,” Hale said. “Good job on (St. Ignatius’) part. You gotta give them credit for pinning us down.”
The Patriots finally got going on their fifth drive thanks to a 43-yard, one-handed grab by Brendon White from Mitchell Okuley to set up a first and goal at the 10.
But, Okuley was sacked for a loss of 6 yards on the next play and was forced to leave the game with a leg injury.
“He could have gone in the second half — we just didn’t think it was the right thing to do,” Hale said. “If he would have gone back in and torn something — that’s the kind of thing that you can’t allow to happen as a coach. You can’t put a kid in a dangerous situation.”
Backup quarterback A.J. Smith found Ben Roderick on the left sideline for an apparent touchdown two plays later, but Roderick was called for offensive pass interference.
“We got one there that we felt was pretty good and it didn’t work out,” Hale said. “We had to keep working and keep searching.”
Smith was sacked on third down, forcing another Will Fowler punt. Fowler finished with 10 punts for 389 yards for the Patriots.
White took over at quarterback for Liberty (13-1) on its first possession of the second half and hooked up with Johnny Wiseman, who made an over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone from 26 yards out to slice the deficit in half. White threw for 92 yards and rushed for 47 with two passing scores.
“He made some nice plays — he hasn’t been a quarterback for seven weeks,” Hale said. “Obviously, he’s talented.”
Liberty’s defense was stout, especially in the second half. The Patriots held St. Ignatius without a single yard of total offense for almost 20 minutes after the half.
“Our defensive line did a great job … our linebackers,” Hale said. “I know they’re St. Ignatius, (but) I’m not sure they’ve been hit like they were (Friday night).”
Ryan found daylight on the right side and ran 69 yards to push the Wildcats lead to 21-7 with 4:34 left.
“He just got a seam,” Hale said. “A really good player made a really good play.”
White found Ben Rinsma, who pitched to Wiseman on a hook-and-lateral that took Liberty to the St. Ignatius 13 after a late hit out of bounds.
White then found Drew Rosi for a 7-yard touchdown two plays later to draw Liberty within seven with 3:36 left.
“If that (drive) doesn’t speak to the character of this team, then I don’t know what else (does),” Hale said.
Trickett knocked through a 39-yard field goal with 13 seconds left to round out the scoring.
St. Ignatius faces Cincinnati St. Xavier for the state championship Friday night at 8 p.m. at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.