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October 22, 2009
When Cleveland St. Ignatius head coach Chuck Kyle was asked to coach the American team in this summer's International Federation of American Football's Junior World Championship, the first person he called was Cincinnati St. Xavier head coach Steve Specht.
The team they put together outscored opponents 174-3 and easily won a gold medal against youth football players from seven other countries.
The friendship is on hold this weekend.
Kyle and Specht will be on opposite sides of the field Saturday afternoon as St. Ignatius, 7-0 and ranked No. 18 in the RivalsHigh 100 rankings meets No. 32 St. Xavier (7-1) at 2 p.m. at John Carroll University's Don Shula Stadium in Cleveland.
The two Division I schools are no strangers to big games. Under Kyle, St. Ignatius has won 10 state championships and two national championships. St. Xavier won state championships in 2005 and 2007 under Specht.
St. Ignatius' has won 22 straight games following a 49-20 victory over Inkster, Mich., last weekend, but the streak isn't a concern.
"We don't even talk about it," he said. "It doesn't contribute to what our challenge is this week and each week."
Against Inkster, quarterback and two-star Pitt commit Mark Myers played almost flawlessly, connecting on 13 of his 14 pass attempts for 199 yards and three touchdowns. For the season, he's 85-158 for 1,253 yards, 14 touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Running back Bobby Grebenc rushed for 140 yards and four touchdowns against Inkster and has 170 carries for 869 yards and 14 touchdowns for the season. Tight end Brendan Carozzoni, a veteran receiver from last year's state championship team, is a Pittsburgh commit who can stretch the defense with his speed.
On defense, the team is led by two linebackers, three-star Ohio State commit Scott McVey and Jake Ryan, who had 13 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery in the team's closest game this year, a 10-7 victory over Warren Harding. Defensive ends Gerry Ramellla and Pat Dowd, both seniors, also are keys to the team's success.
St. Xavier's only loss came to Fort Thomas (Kentucky) Highlands, now ranked 14th in the RivalsHigh 100. That loss, however, gives Specht confidence for the matchup with St. Ignatius.
"We feel like if we can play our best football, we can compete with anybody, and that's kind of the goal right now," he said.
St. Xavier, however, has not been playing its best right now. It dropped to No. 32 following its less than impressive 3-2 victory over Lakewood St. Edward, when the Bombers made it into the red zone five times but could manage only one field goal.
"We did everything we wanted to do offensively except score points," Specht said.
The Bombers are led on offense by three-star Cincinnati commit Luke Massa, (6-4, 205), who is connecting on 65.5 percent of his passes (97 for 148) for 1,082 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also spreads the ball around, as 12 players have caught a pass this season.
Sophomore Conor Hundley has led the rushing attack with 744 yards on 133 attempts, a 5.6 yards per carry average, He's also caught 13 passes.
But perhaps the key to the attack is four-star left tackle Matt James, a 6-7, 300-pounder who can play for just about any college team he wants to. Specht has called him "as good as anybody I've ever seen at this level."
With both teams so evenly matched, the game could come down to basic fundamentals.
Specht said keeping St. Ignatius' high-powered offense off the field is a key to victory. Kyle said field position will be important. Turnovers, however, may have helped decide many of the two teams' past games.
"It just seems like any kind of mistake like that in this ball game over the years has been magnified," he said.
Specht said it was an honor coaching the national team with Kyle, though he joked that his only regret was that Kyle delegated so much to his offensive and defensive coordinators that they couldn't learn many of his secrets. All kidding aside, he said that he was impressed with how Kyle treated everyone with dignity and respect.
"It didn't matter who you were, what your job entailed, he spent as much time with the cafeteria workers as he did with his coaching staff," Specht said. "That's just the kind of guy he is."
Kyle said he enjoyed working with fellow coaches. He said he and Specht have matched up so many times that there was little they could learn about each other, but they did learn from each other as they created a team from players selected from across the country.
"It was fun coaching a team like that, but it was also kind of mini-coaches clinic from very successful coaches," he said.