Mentor Defeats Eagles in Frigid Playoff Game
There will be no rematch with St. Ignatius. The Mentor Cardinals beat St. Edward 21-13 Friday night in OHSAA football playoff action at a frozen Byers Field in Parma. The game was played with temperatures in the 20s, conditions best suited for Princess Elsa or the Freeze Meiser. Passing and punting was difficult for both teams, since the ball was hard and heavy. Mentor utilized a punishing running attack and a strong defensive effort to pull the upset. Senior running back Elijah McDougall led the Cardinal running game, gaining 121 yards on 15 carries. Fellow senior Chris Edmond had 59 yards on 14 carries. McDougall and Edmond each had one touchdown run.
The game started well for the Eagles, who took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. The St. Edward defense sacked Cardinal quarterback Tadas Tatarunas on Mentor’s first offense play. Two plays later junior defensive back Caden Kolesar intercepted a Mentor pass, giving the Eagles possession on the Cardinal 42 yard line. Junior quarterback Garrett Dzuro led a scoring drive, which was capped by an 18 yard touchdown run by senior running back Tylan Rice. Senior kicker Blaine Stencil added the extra point, and St. Edward held a 7-0 lead with 6:37 remaining in the first quarter.
The Mentor offense struggled again on its second possession, suffering a holding penalty and another quarterback sack. They punted back to the Eagles, who took possession at the Cardinal 45 yard line. The Eagle drive stalled at the Mentor 12 yard line, and Stencil added a 29 yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0 with 1:54 remaining in the opening period.
The Cardinals’ third offensive possession proved to be the charm. Their offensive line opened holes for the running game, and the team marched 87 yards for a touchdown with 10:29 left in the second quarter. McDougall, who had a 20 yard run earlier in the drive, scored the touchdown on an eight yard carry. Junior kicker Conor McIntosh added the extra point for the Cardinals, making the score 10-7.
The Eagle offense started their next possession well, but a pair of crucial penalties – one holding, one offensive pass interference – stopped the drive. Penalties would continue to plague the Eagles throughout the rest of the evening. The Cardinals forced a punt, but started their next drive at their own nine yard line. They methodically moved the ball down the field, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on an eleven play drive. The touchdown came on a 13 yard pass from Tatarunas to junior Logan Shea. After dominating the first quarter, the St. Edward defense which had given up fewer than 12 points per play all season had suddenly allowed back-to-back touchdown drives of over 85 yards. Mentor took the 14-10 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Mentor received the second half kickoff, but failed to score on their drive. They reached the Eagle 28 yard line, but a 45 yard field goal attempt landed short. The cold conditions made the ball rock-hard, hampering kickers and punters throughout the game. The teams exchanged punts on their next possessions, and the Eagles were driving late in the third quarter. St. Edward appeared to score on a 46 yard touchdown pass, but the play was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty. The Eagle fans in attendance cheered excitedly at the play, but then the Cardinal fans got a welcome reprieve. St. Edward eventually punted, and the game stayed 14-10 after three quarters.
St. Edward put together a nice drive early in the fourth quarter, moving the ball inside the Cardinals ten yard line. The Cardinal defense stepped up, forcing the Eagles to settle for a 25 yard field goal. The score stood at 14-13 with 10:10 remaining. That’s when the Cardinal offense put together another impressive touchdown drive, going 80 yards on 12 plays. Edmond pounded in a two yard touchdown run with 5:17 remaining, extending the lead to 21-13.
Junior Jordan Castleberry had a strong return on the ensuing kickoff, setting the Eagle offense up at their own 48 yard line. The Eagles mustered a first down thanks to a 9 yard catch by Rice, whose second effort on a fourth down play got a first down at the Mentor 39 yard line. The Cardinal defense remained tough, and four plays later forced the Eagles to turn the ball over on downs. Mentor took possession with 2:21 remaining in the game, and successfully ran out the clock.
Jublilant Mentor players celebrated as the final seconds ticked off. The hearty Cardinal fans who sat three hours in freezing temperatures cheered wildly at the upset win. Eagle players, meanwhile, were shocked and saddened by the season-ending loss. Coaches and staff consoled seniors such as linebacker Omar Fattah, whose brilliant Eagle career came to an end. The Cardinals move on to face St. Ignatius next week in the regional championship. Ignatius earned its spot in the game with a 45-21 win over Euclid on Friday night.
Mike Deneen has extensive experience covering sports and community stories for the Lakewood Observer. Mike has been a Senior Industry Analyst for the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1998. He has appeared on CNBC’s Closing Bell, NPR’s MarketPlace and has been quoted multiple times in The Wall Street Journal. He has made multiple guest appearances on ESPN Cleveland radio. Mike also writes for Inside Northwestern, a website that covers Northwestern Wildcat Athletics. You can reach him on Twitter at @MikeDeneen1