St. Ignatius' Kyle adds to his ring collection

CANTON, Ohio -- Chuck Kyle isn't a "numbers guy."

And the ultra-successful football coach of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland doesn't wear his championship symbols on his fingers.

Kyle just continues to guide one of the nation's top football programs. He never looks back, just ahead to the next game or challenge for the Wildcats.

This past Saturday night, St. Ignatius captured its 10th Ohio Division 1 championship since 1988 with a hard-fought 28-20 decision over Elder High of Cincinnati.

"I can't compare the title teams," Kyle said, "because this championship is for the players who earned it. This is their year, and I wouldn't want to take anything away from that."

When asked about championship rings, Kyle said most remain boxed up.

"I may wear one for a special event," he said. "I didn't even get one for our first championship because they cost over $200 and I had four kids to buy Christmas presents for at the time."

Coaching his alma mater the past 26 years, with no thoughts of leaving the sidelines, Kyle has compiled a sparkling 252-56-1 record and all 10 of the titles at the all-boys parochial school of 1,086 students.

"I never mention past titles, or numbers, to our players," Kyle said. "But I'm sure they can read the media reports."

The current players weren't born when Kyle led his first state title team in 1988. The Wildcats have defeated eight different opponents for the 10 crowns, also won in 1989, five straight from 1991 to 1995, 1999 and 2001.

After a six-season gap between state title trophies, Kyle knows the championship brass rings have become harder to grasp in recent years.

"There are simply too many good programs and teams in Ohio for any school to have an extended run like we had in the 1990s. You have to win five playoff games against top teams to reach the goal, and that's not an easy thing to do."

The championship victory over Elder was proof of that statement.

The Wildcats roared out to a 21-0 cushion early in the second quarter before the Panthers got on the board to trail 21-7 at halftime. Quarterback Andrew Holland's third touchdown pass, his second to Connor Ryan, gave St. Ignatius a 28-7 margin. Holland finished 12-of-22 for 208 yards.

But Elder wasn't an easy out. Junior quarterback Mark Miller made sure of that.

Miller, who completed 27 of 50 passes for 399 yards, connected with Josh Jones on a 45-yard aerial score in the final seconds of the third quarter to cut the gap to 28-13.

Then he marched the team to the Wildcats' 2-yard line, where he exited the game with a leg injury. Backup Joe Hetzer teamed with Tim O'Conner for the TD strike with 1:22 left to cap the scoring. O'Conner ended with 15 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns.

"It was a heavyweight battle and lived up to the hype," Kyle said.

"We made it interesting at the end," Elder coach Doug Ramsey said. "St. Ignatius put us in a big hole early, but our guys continued to fight. There were two good teams on the field."

Elder also could be looking to 2009, since several key players will return, including Miller, O'Connor, tight end Alex Welch, running back Adam Brown and junior-to-be linebacker Jacob Lindsey. St. Ignatius's top defender, junior linebacker Scott McVey (5 tackles, 3 assists, 3 sacks), also will return.

The Stuff

National coach of the week

Kirk Peterson had a glittering record in six seasons at Millard West High in Omaha, Nebraska, but it was missing something -- a state title. Cancel that vacuum, as the Wildcats downed Millard South 21-8 in the Class A title game at the University of Nebraska on Nov. 26. And, to boot, Peterson's team recorded the school's first unbeaten season. Peterson now is 52-15 overall after guiding this year's club to its 13-0 record despite having had to rebuild much of the offensive line. But since the defense was fairly experienced, the Wildcats figured that if it came down to a defensive struggle, they were well prepared. In the champsionship game, Darius Evans gobbled up the opening kickoff on the West 6-yard line and returned it 94 yards. The Wildcats never trailed as that defense stepped up, allowing just one touchdown. Peterson also had another weapon that produced something that's impossible to duplicate: speed. State 100- and 200-meter dash champion Kohlman Adema-Schulte was the Wildcats' leading rusher, racing to 96 yards on 17 carries, causing the South defenders' hearts to skip a beat every time he touched the ball. After two trips to the semifinals, Peterson joins Dan McLaughlin's 2001 club as state champions, but that shiny 13-0 record stands out all alone in the school's 14-year history.

Bellevue on the bus again
FAB 50-ranked Bellevue High of Washington finally got to play its Class 3A state semifinal football game Monday night, and the Wolverines made quick work of Olympia Capital in posting a 28-6 triumph. The real triumph, though, might have been that the players and coach Butch Goncharoff sucked in their guts and got on a bus at all. It was on the team's ride to the Tacoma Dome this past Friday that the bus, two cars and a semi hooked up in an accident caused by a ladder falling off a pickup truck on Interstate 5. Goncharoff was among the most seriously injured, with a separated shoulder, bruised vertebrae and cuts on his back. Only one player, defensive lineman Alex Gray, was injured so badly he couldn't play in the rescheduled game Monday. "They were nervous to get on the bus for sure," Goncharoff told The Seattle Times. "If you hit a semi at 65 miles an hour and flip over, you're lucky to be here no matter what. The fact we are walking, let alone playing, is the main thing." This time, the Bellevue bus did not make the trip along heavily traveled Interstate 5 but instead took a series of slower highways. This weekend, the Wolverines will return to the Tacoma Dome to take on Union of Vancouver in the state final.

Next stop for Shepard show is Baton Rouge
It's too bad that LSU-bound ESPNU top recruit Russell Shepard couldn't get just one more game in his celebrated prep career as the quarterback for Cypress Ridge High in Houston. If he could have gotten that one game, Shepard no doubt would have easily duplicated Terrell Pryor's accomplishment last year of rushing and passing for more than 2,000 yards each. In his last game, Shepard was sensational with 31 carries for 311 yards and three touchdowns while also going 12-of-20 through the air for 227 yards and three more scores in a wild 55-48 loss to Copperas Cove in the Class 5A Division II playoffs. Shepard thus ended his season with 1,945 yards rushing and 1,843 yards passing. He also accounted for 48 touchdowns, with 28 rushing and 20 passing. Pryor has had immediate success as a true freshman this season at Ohio State. Will Shepard do the same at LSU next year?

Mark Tennis and Steve Brand also contributed to this column.