Behind the best half of team defense that Walsh Jesuit’s football program has had in quite some time, the Warriors were a play or two from pulling off one of the area’s biggest comebacks this fall.
Storming back from a 35-10 deficit and a 38-17 halftime score, Walsh forced Cleveland Heights to recover on onside kick with just 1:32 left to hold onto the wild 38-30 non-league win.
The host Tigers (4-1) were clinging to a one-possession lead when Jeremiah Dillard jumped on the onside kick attempt by Warrior senior placekicker Caroline Flessner.
"We won the turnover battle behind our defense, but we just came up a couple plays short of winning," said Walsh head coach Nick Alexander.
"Defensively, we played really, really hard," he added.
Alexander indicated that defensive coordinator Phil Bukovitz challenged the defense at halftime, and the Warrior defense pitched a shutout in the second half against the starters for Heights.
"Phil challenged the guys — he said to ignore the score and play football and our kids responded and these guys kept battling," said Alexander.
A brilliant performance by senior quarterback Cam Mayes and the Warrior defense paced Walsh (0-5), which had the look of a winner from late in the first half through the entire second half.
In addition, an opportunistic Warrior defense recovered three fumbles and had an interception in the second half alone.
Having a career game, Mayes came just four yards shy of the single game record as he passed for 296 yards, hitting 26-51 passes for three touchdowns, and one interception.
Mayes, who connected with eight different receivers, also ran for 125 yards and another tally, a 3-yard TD run.
"Cam just did a tremendous job and he kept battling," noted the coach.
Speedy Tiger back Jayvion Holcomb ran for touchdowns of 9 and 17 yards, the latter burst up the middle made it 35-10 in the second quarter.
However, Mayes struck often for Walsh as he had a 27-yard TD strike over the middle to junior wide receiver Dom Grguric and Flessner’s PAT made it 35-17 with 34 seconds left.
To the chagrin of Alexander, Cleveland Heights did score again in the first half – a 45-yard field goal by quarterback Bay Harvey, who also had three TD passes and a score on the ground.
On the first drive of the second half, Walsh’s offense struck again.
Mayes had a beautiful pass to Grguric, who raced 63 yards for the score to slice into the lead, 38-24. Grguric had seven catches for 118 yards and two TD’s.
Sophomore defensive back Josh Campagna had an interception for the Walsh defense.
A huge play came when senior lineman Jamie Perebzak jumped on a loose ball in the Warrior end zone for a touchback after Heights had a first down at the 9-yard line.
Junior defensive lineman Bobby Perebzak caused a fumble that junior linebacker Bailey Russ recovered in Walsh territory.
Then one of Walsh’s forced turnovers turned into a big score as senior Adam Salek jumped on another Tiger fumble.
Salek’s recovery led to sophomore Christian Ochei’s first touchdown of his career.
A wide out, Ochei snagged a 5-yard scoring pass on an out pattern from Mayes with 1:37 left to set up on the onside kick attempt.
After the Tigers scored with 9:29 left in the first half to make it 28-7, Mayes had an electric 65-yard scamper up the middle. However, Walsh had to settle for a field goal.
Flessner nailed a 30-yard field goal to make it 28-10.
"That was an awesome field goal and while we wanted to get a TD, every point really does matter for us," explained Alexander.
Besides Russ and active sophomore backer Kasey Kish, the young Warrior defense received a solid game from sophomore cornerback Charlie Klug.
Klug, a 140-pound youngster who wasn’t afraid to mix it up in run support, got the start.
"Charlie started this week and he is undersized (5-foot-9, 140), but he accepted the challenges that came his way," said Alexander.
Another huge plus for Walsh was the play of the offensive line, primarily in pass protection as Alexander wanted to spread out Heights with sets up trip receivers and quad sets with an empty backfield.
Walsh did a great job against University of Cincinnati commit Justin Wodtly, a 6-3, 260-pound end.
"Our offensive line did a great job and they allowed just two sacks on 51 pass attempts," noted Alexander. "Our line continues to improve."
Some of the leaders in the trenches include senior Dave Wohlabaugh, senior Chris DiSabato, senior Nolan Flanagan, senior John Mackert, and sophomore Joe DeAngelis.
Alexander misses injured senior Nick Contos, who started last year along with Wohlabaugh and DiSabato. Senior Joe El Biri is the tight end.
Rangy senior wide out Nick Reilman had a game-high eight receptions for 65 yards while junior receiver Ben Ligan had four catches for 30 yards, and Ochei had two catches for 42 yards.
The defense isn’t the only side of the ball with young talent.
Alexander was quick to point out that of those eight different athletes that caught passes for Mayes, seven of them were underclassmen.