Leo fought off foul weather, an injury to its starting tailback and a second-half comeback attempt by St. Ignatius to hold on for a 21-19 victory at the Kroc Center on Friday night.
The Lions (4-2, 2-0 Catholic League White) looked to be cruising to a win early on with a methodical running game and stout defense that combined to put Leo ahead 14-0 one minute into the second quarter.
A 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by St. Ignatius’ (1-5, 0-3) Luke Soenen gave the Wolfpack some life. Soenen shrugged off a would-be tackler at midfield and broke free down the sideline to cut the Leo lead to 14-6.
Leo running back Joe Shorter responded by breaking off a 51-yard run on the following drive, but his effort was undone by a fumble from Leo quarterback Latrell Giles that was recovered by St. Ignatius.
Giles quickly pulled momentum back to Leo as he intercepted a pass from St. Ignatius’ Ryan Coolidge and Leo took over at the Wolfpack 15 yard line. Shorter punched in a touchdown for his second score of the game and it once again seemed like Leo was comfortably in control of the contest.
Shorter rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns on 11 attempts in less than a half of football, but suffered a leg injury late in the second quarter and did not return to the game. Leo head coach Michael Holmes said the injury was difficult for the Lions and he hopes it’s just a twisted ankle, but wasn’t sure of a prognosis on Shorter’s injury. The injury forced Saheed Adewole, who usually lines up as a wide receiver, to fill in at tailback.
“(Shorter) was having a good game,” Adewole said. “He was hitting the hole hard, getting what he needed to get and getting it done. … I really didn’t know the plays like that, but I came in and stepped up for my team. We played a hard game.”
Another Leo fumble gave St. Ignatius the ball at the Leo 16 yard line early in the second half and the Wolfpack capitalized, making it 21-13.
They would stifle the Leo offense for much of the third and fourth quarters and eventually pulled within striking distance at 21-19 with 8:43 left in the game, but a failed two-point conversion left the Wolfpack desperate for a score.
The score would never come for St. Ignatius. They crossed the 50 yard line into Leo territory midway through the fourth quarter, but a fumble derailed an otherwise promising drive and St. Ignatius never got another good chance.
St. Ignatius got the ball back at its own eight yard line with 4:32 to play, but Holmes said he felt good about Leo’s chances at that point.
“We’ve been there before and this team knows how to handle it,” Holmes said. “We knew once we punted and had them back there near their own end zone, they weren’t going to drive the length of the field on us.”
Giles’ biggest rush of the night came on third down with just more than a minute remaining in the game. A fake handoff allowed him to scamper 11 yards for a first down to seal the victory for the Lions.
“That’s the story of our season. We’ve lost three games by three possessions,” said St. Ignatius coach John O’Connor. “The effort’s there, we’re just a little short on the execution. There are some learning curves. We’re getting better each week. The frustrating part is we’re just not getting the W’s.”