It wasn't the typical defensive struggle that most fans and media expected.
It wasn't the usual "three yards and a cloud of dust" game that has become the status quo in the St. Ignatius - St. Xavier rivalry.
Instead, the Wildcats and Bombers traded offensive haymakers with St. Ignatius throwing just a few more. The biggest was a 56-yard touchdown run by junior tailback Bobby Grebenc with 1:47 remaining, securing a 30-21 victory in front of a packed crowd at John Carroll University's Don Shula Stadium.
"We pulled it out again," said St. Ignatius senior cornerback Kevin Johnson, referring to both the Wildcats' narrow overtime victory over the Bombers last year and a number of close victories this season.
"We knew we had to come to play against a great X team."
The Wildcats, ranked 18th in the country, kept their record unblemished at 9-0 and moved their winning streak to 23 games dating back to last season. St. Xavier, who entered ranked no. 32 nationally in the Rivals 100, lost for the second time in nine games.
Despite the unusually high final score, the first half looked like the typical St. Ignatius-St. Xavier defensive slugfest.
St. Xavier struck first, using a deliberate 12-play, 90-yard drive capped off by a 16-yard Will Carroll touchdown run off a jet sweep around left end. The Bombers, however, were plagued by turnovers the remainder of the first half.
The Wildcats recovered two X fumbles near midfield and parlayed them into points. Senior kicker Jesse Franklin booted 32 and 31-yard second quarter field goals cutting the Bombers' lead to 7-6.
Behind quarterback Luke Massa and running back Connor Hundley, St. Xavier threatened in the final minutes of the first half, moving deep into St. Ignatius territory. However, Massa's pass into the left corner of the endzone was picked off by Johnson, who leapt at the goal line to keep the Wildcats' deficit at only one-point heading into intermission.
"Turnovers kind of saved us in the first half," admitted St. Ignatius standout linebacker Scott McVey. "In the second half we were able to do what we had to do."
That they did.
The opportunistic St. Ignatius 3-3-5 defense was once again the key as the Wildcats' built a lead they would never relinquish. Following a 36-yard Franklin field goal, St. Ignatius safety George Newrones picked off a pass over the middle by Massa, who was under intense heat from McVey and fellow linebacker Jake Ryan. Newrones returned it the other way for a 33-yard touchdown and 16-7 lead midway through the third.
The coaches definitely told me to let it rip," explained McVey of his heavy blitzing. "But it's always a challenge going against (St. Xavier blue-chip tackle) Matt James."
Massa was able to rebound and directed a quick two minute scoring drive late in the third. Receiver Jeff Kraemer, who had 88 receiving yards in the game, capped it off with a 17-yard touchdown grab in the back corner of the endzone. Kramer tightroped the sideline, but the officials determined he was able to get his feet in bounds.
The Wildcats and Bombers traded fourth quarter touchdown drives down the stretch. St. Ignatius quarterback Mark Myers threaded the needle and fired a 9-yard touchdown pass to junior flanker David Joseph in between two flying St. Xavier defenders. The Bombers responded with a 1-yard touchdown plunge by fullback Nigel Muhammad with 4:20 left that cut the Wildcats' lead to 23-21.
Following two first down runs, Grebenc busted off left tackle and outran pursuit for the the touchdown to put the game out of reach. The 5-10, 195-pound workhorse finished with 135 yards on 22 carries.
Both standout quarterbacks put up solid stat lines. Myers completed 18-of-29 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown. Massa connected on 20-of-30 passes for an even 200 yards and a touchdown, but his two interceptions proved costly.
SI 0 6 10 14 - 30
SX 7 0 7 7 - 21
SX - Carroll 16 run (Leonard kick)
SI - Franklin 32 FG
SI - Franklin 31 FG
SI - Franklin 36 FG
SI - Newrones 33 INT return (Franklin kick)
SX - Kraemer 17 pass from Massa (Leonard kick)
SI - Joseph 9 pass from Myers (Franklin kick)
SX - Muhammed 1 yd run (Leonard kick)
SI - Grebenc 56 run (Franklin kick)