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Lessons Learned Spark Ignatius Win Over Aspetuck

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Lessons Learned Spark Ignatius Win Over Aspetuck

St. Ignatius Huddle up. Alex Goff photo.

If you look at the early scores against major HS club teams, St. Ignatius might come across as just a pretty good school team, but one not at the level of the top teams in the nation, but as the season has progressed, the Wildcats' profile has changed, too.

After losing to the Charlotte Tigers 49-7 in their opener, and to Royal Irish 36-14 in April, Ignatius turned that around, beating Royal Irish at the Midwest Tournament 14-12 despite having their seniors back in Cleveland for Prom Night. A week later they met Aspetuck on neutral territory on a bitterly cold afternoon and beat the #5 HS Club 27-12. That victory, more than anything else, has vaulted Ignatius to a #2 ranking among school teams.

Goodbye Plan A

Ignatius went into the game looking to move the ball smoothly through the hands and make Aspetuck's big forwards run. They ended up ditching that plan, although not the spirit of the plan.

"We got there and it was 37 degrees and raining," said St. Ignatius Head Coach Dan Arbeznik. "And it became evident in the warmup that we weren't going to be able to play the way we wanted to. So we decided we would kick, make them run to chase the kicks, and put pressure on them. It took our guys about 10 to 15 minutes to grasp that was what we needed to do, but after that we did really well."

It doesn't hurt that the Ignatius halfback combo of Fielding Carlson and Bobby Voth are both very adept with the boot. Carlson's box kicking was brilliant throughout, and Voth was getting a consistent 40 meters on kicks to touch as well as finding green space to drop the kicks in during open play.

Aspetuck scored on a pick-and-go as they wisely had looked to use their ability at a vertical game to handle the conditions. But Ignatius replied when prop Chris Speelman anticipated a short lineout throw from Aspetuck, stole the ball, and that set up a try from Voth, which he converted to make it 7-7 at halftime.

Ignatius then started to inch away. Realizing that even the pass from scrumhalf to flyhalf was fraught with peril, Carlson box kicked and the Ignatius tacklers hit hard. The pressure produced penalties by Aspetuck, and Voth was good on two two such opportunities to make it 13-7. And then a Carlson box kick sailed into the Aspetuck territory and Ryan Putka got on his horse and chase it down, gathering the rolling ball and was in. Suddenly it was 20-12. Aspetuck got one back when they hit Ignatius center/flanker Marty Lenehan as he was trying to kick the ball. Loose ball taken and in for the Connecticut team.

As he has all season, Lenehan responded, charging in for a try and, with Voth's conversion, a 27-12 win.

Getting Smart

That was one game, but it was indicative of this Ignatius season. They have learned to play wide and open when they can, and to slog it out when conditions dictate. Arbeznik has switched up the lineup, sometimes because hes been forced to, but the result has been players who are able to step into the fray whenever they're needed.

"We learned a lot from that first game against Charlotte, and much has changed since then," he said. "That game and the first Royal Irish game the guys saw that our defensive performance should be first and foremost."

He's moved Lenehan, who was playing No. 8 and blindside flanker, to center, which basically means he knocks players down in the open field instead of closer to the ruck. Few teams can get it wide.

"We're just trying to play smart rugby, and we're fortunate to have players who allow us to do that," said Arbeznik.

St. Ignatius Results So Far:

March 6 St. Ignatius 7 Charlotte Tigers 49
March 13 St. Ignatius 66 St. Xavier Cincinnati 5
March 20 St. Ignatius 49 Notre Dame de la Salette 0
March 27 St. Ignatius 34 Moeller 24
March 31 St. Ignatius 24 St. Edward 12 
April 10 St. Ignatius 14 Royal Irish 36
April 16 St. Ignatius 111 Avon (OH) 0
April 24 St. Ignatius 68 Toledo Celts 7
May 1 St. Ignatius 24 HSE 0
May 1 St. Ignatius 14 Royal Irish 12
May 9 St. Ignatius 27 Aspetuck 12

Next up for St. Ignatius is St. Xavier in a rematch, although one that will be more of an all-senior runout, and then Gonzaga HS. That second game, especially, will be a huge and telling test for both teams.