When the shoulder pads of a St. Ignatius Wildcat and a St. Edward Eagle collide, the close proximity of the boys behind them is all but new. Four miles separate the campuses of Cleveland’s preeminent Catholic high schools, and the players who square off in the parochial rivalry known as the “Holy War” grow up maybe four blocks or four houses or four-or-so feet down the hallway from one another. Each scene in the storied rivalry provides fodder for Sunday morning chatter in the parish pews, and each chapter reshapes the playoff chase in Ohio high school football. But it was the 1993 game between the Wildcats and Eagles that remains the rivalry’s legendary tale.
While many of the coaches and all of the players have moved on, they’ve taken with them indelible memories of a 35-34 triple-overtime thriller that saw Ignatius win and then catapult to its second straight state title and USA TODAY national championship honors.
Players, coaches, and media members who took part in the ’93 Holy War remember it well — the week that led up to the game, the atmosphere that compared to the aura of big-time college ball, and the plays that allowed for one of the state’s most dramatic finishes.
What do you remember about the week leading up to the game — the intensity of practices, the atmosphere at school or in the community?
Eddie Dwyer, a Cleveland Plain Dealer High School writer who covered the game: I remember like it was yesterday, how all-business like Saint Edward was in practices leading up to the game.
Dan Flaherty, St. Edward defensive coordinator: The practices for Ed’s-Ignatius were always more intense and focused than any others. Everyone knew the relevance of the game, no matter what each other’s record was. We had one loss (to Austintown Fitch), and only four teams made the playoffs at that time. So two losses would make things very difficult for us. The attitude of our team was great — the players knew we had not played well at Austintown and they worked extremely hard all week. We had some very good weapons on offense and the defense seemed to be improving each week.
Bob Adams, St. Edward quarterback: For that game, yeah, we practiced a little harder. That game was always on my mind, even from the beginning of the season. Let’s put it this way: I would rather have played St. Ignatius 10 times, rather than play the other nine or whatever teams on our schedule that year.
Brian Laux, St. Edward All-Ohio offensive guard: Our goal that year was the playoffs and a state title, so every week was intense. But that week was “Iggy week.” As soon as the prior game ends, you prepare for them. I guess all big team rivalries are cool, but this one is special because guys on each team grew up together, went to church together. It’s like playing your brother, so that amps you up all week long. You hit a little harder in practice for sure.
Scott Mutryn, St. Ignatius quarterback: We dealt every week with the pressure of being ranked No. 1 in the state. Coach [Chuck] Kyle made sure we approached each week of practice with the same vigor and commitment to preparation. But when we played Ed’s, it was different because we knew and grew up with all of the guys on their team. That made the week leading up to the game unique.
Dwyer: Coach Jim McQuaide and his staff seemed to put an emphasis on containing the most gifted running back in Saint Ignatius’ rich football history, senior tailback Eric Haddad.
Eric Haddad, St. Ignatius running back: We had a lot of pressure that season right out of the gate. But that week, my recollection is “This is the game, all eyes are on us.” It was like a grand finale for the seniors because we were playing against a bunch of guys we all knew.
Did you notice that the game day atmosphere and was it different than any other games you had played up to that point?
— Eddie Dwyer
As with most of the games that take place in Lakewood Stadium, you could always see a few fans in the double houses along Bunts Road and some of the residents of the apartments along Madison Avenue taking in a glimpse of the action. But this night, those balconies were jammed packed. One resident of an apartment across from the Madison Avenue end zone actually charged residents to watch from her balcony.
Mutryn: Usually we went out for pre-game warm-ups about 45 minutes before game time, and maybe the stands filled in with parents and alumni. When we went out for pre-game on this night, the stands were full. I remember thinking, “Wow, they packed the house tonight.”
Haddad: There were people lined up and down the track and standing on cars.
Dwyer: Thirteen thousand was the attendance figure most members of the media used. The aisles were jammed on both sides of the stadium and fans were three, to four, to five rows deep around the outside of the field. Keep in mind that at that time Lakewood Stadium seated around 8,500 at best.
Mutryn: I played my first college game at the Big House in front of 100,000 people, but the atmosphere for this game was unique because there was more at stake.
Jim McQuaide, St. Edward Head Coach: The atmosphere versus St. Ignatius was always very intense, and this time wasn’t different than others. The guys on both teams had been friends for most of their lives, and that always added to the rivalry. Ignatius was in the midst of an amazing run of success throughout the state, and we were working to get on that same level.
Adams: Once I got on the field, I took a deep breath, went out for the coin toss and was ready to play ball. For as packed as it was, there were times I could have heard a pin drop because of how focused I was on playing the game.
Laux: But as soon as the ball was snapped, we could have been playing in front of a five-person crowd. It’s like your entire body has tunnel vision, and you’re just playing the game.
With just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Ignatius led 21-7 and, by some accounts, a handful of fans exited the stadium.
What thoughts were going through your head at that point in the game?
Mutryn: I remember the play that put us up two scores: a play-action route with the primary receiver running a deep in cut to the left side. I took the snap and saw the safety bite on the in cut and I threw a touchdown to Keith Laschinger running a post route over the top of the defense. And then I remember thinking, “Yeah, that’s it, we got ’em.”
Our strength coach on the sidelines told us to stay focused, that the game wasn’t over.
Dwyer: I did remark when I saw those fans heading to the exits that there was “still plenty of time for Bobby Adams to pull something off.”
Laux: We had a high-powered offense and one of the best quarterbacks in the state. Plus, I was playing against guys I had competed with since sixth grade, and I just wanted to keep hitting them. We weren’t quitters.
Adams: Yeah, we were down but not out. We huddled up, and I remember Coach McQauide saying something to the effect of, “Anything’s possible.” That was our attitude.
McQuaide: There was about 8:25 to go in the game, and we had a fourth down around midfield and during a timeout we thought we would punt but then changed our minds and got the first down. That changed some of the momentum for us.
Flaherty: The game got special when we were down 21-7 and scored a touchdown. We realized that we needed one stop and that we had the momentum late in the game. When we tied it in the fourth quarter, the whole stadium got electric. Some people who had left came back in. They were standing five deep all the way around the perimeter.
Dwyer: As the game was approaching the first overtime, people were stopping their cars along Madison Avenue trying to get a look at the action of a game that has, and always will, stand the test of time as one of the greatest games in the history of high school football in Ohio, if not the entire nation. Those Madison Avenue observers were even standing on the hoods of their cars in attempt to get a better view. The police had to break up what was becoming a traffic jam along Bunts and Madison.
Mutryn and Adams both played legendary games, throwing for a combined nine touchdowns.
Dwyer: Not only were they two of the finest signal-callers in the history of area high school football, but they were almost mirror images of each other in terms of the confident swagger they brought to the field.
Scott passed for 229 yards and five touchdowns, and Bobby threw for 231 yards and four touchdowns. Both Bobby and Scott were selected to The Plain Dealer’s All-Cuyahoga County All-Star First Team, and Bobby was The Plain Dealer’s Seven-County All-Star quarterback for 1993.
Haddad: Scott is one of the best competitors I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with. We had a way of getting the best out of each other. Scott is the confident and competitive guy that you want to have at quarterback. He held himself a very high standard, and he’s the guy who wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.
Mutryn: Bobby and I had known each other for awhile. We actually met at a Hoop-it-Up basketball tournament in downtown Cleveland when we were in seventh or eighth grade. That was our first competitive event, as I recall, and it (competition) continued throughout the years in football and basketball. We were both confident guys with strong personalities. I loved playing against Bobby because he was really good, and you judge yourself by how you compete against the best.
Laux: Bob’s talents were well known, but Mutryn was a great player and very highly acclaimed – I think that may have gotten into Bob’s craw a bit. I think Bob believed he was as good as Mutryn and wanted to show it.
— Bobby Adams
McQuaide: To this day, Bobby Adams still ranks with the top players I have coached in my career. He was a great player who made those around him better. His confidence in himself and his abilities made others think they could do the same.
Flaherty: I remember when we got to within 21-14, he (Adams) was walking off the field and raising his hands to our fans to get up and make some noise. He gave us all goose bumps. Everyone had the utmost confidence in Bob. In fact, Jim (McQuaide) and I went out to the Browns facility after the season to talk to Nick Saban about Bob. Coach Saban had just been named the coach at Michigan State and we thought Bob had the ability to play there. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do on the field.
Any particular plays or moments from that game that stand out 21 years later?
McQuaide: I do recall gathering the team together in between a couple of the overtimes and telling them how cool all of this was.
Dwyer: While some of my Saint Edward friends still go on about the missed extra point by the Eagles after they scored first in the third overtime, and certainly Mutryn and Adams were like two gunslingers from the Wild West that night, it came down to a leaping, 15-yard touchdown reception by Saint Ignatius’ wide receiver Keith Laschinger and the ensuing winning extra point by Nick Paez.
Mutryn: I think it was called “72 Pump.” In the third overtime on third down, we called that play. I dropped to the left, (Ignatius wide receiver Keith) Laschinger ran a 12-yard curl, I pump-faked and he rolled to the end zone. I threw a good ball, Keith made a great catch. I remember ending up on my back after I threw that pass.
Who was the better team?
Dwyer: The Wildcats probably had more overall depth, in terms of talent, and obviously Saint Ignatius went on to win its fifth Division I state championship and earn the second of its three national titles. But that night, as Coach Jim McQuaide put it so correctly, “If there is such a thing as the game that neither team deserved to lose, this was certainly it.”
I have probably covered St. Edward teams with more labeled by the media talent, but none with more passion and heart. Man, those Eagle linebackers, Pat Stanton and Bob Birt, and fullback Jim Konopka were as tough as they come.
Flaherty: That game was dead even so I don’t think one team was better than the other. It was back and forth and when it comes down to one play, the game could have gone either way. it was just a great high school game and no one who was there will forget it. I think USA today had it as the National High School Game of the Year.
Adams: I’ll say this: “If you asked Scott (Mutryn) or Eric (Haddad), they would probably tell you that was the hardest they’d been hit all year.” They were bigger and faster, but we hit every day in practice. Everyday.
Laux: That day we lost the game, so we weren’t the better team. That day. And we can’t say we beat ourselves because we played a helluva game and they played a helluva game to beat us.
Adams: My thought is they would have been nervous if we had made the playoffs because we would have been matched up against them in the first round, I think. If we had played them 10 times, I think it’s .500 ball.
Does the ’93 game mean anything more or different to you now than it did back then?
Laux: At the time, I never thought of the game as special because we lost. It was just a game we lost. I remember the day after, there was a lot of chatter about what a great game we played, and I didn’t really get why — I was a kid, and my reaction back then was, “Hmmm, we just lost.” But now I’m 39, I’ve seen a lot of football and so I can appreciate what the game was and am glad I was part of it.
McQuaide: I am proud of how hard our guys played. I am proud of how disappointed we were after losing and then came back the final two weeks to beat Mentor and Padua to give us a chance to make the playoffs, which we just missed out on. People will still bring the game up to me even now and the first thing that starts running through my mind are the specific guys who coached and played on our team more than plays or calls in the game, and that is a great memory to have.
Adams: I think a lot about the guys I played with on that team. We were a family. People still ask me about the game. Actually, I’m not much of a stats or records guy, so it’s funny when people come up to me and can recite specific plays or my stats from that game.
Haddad: The mentality at Ignatius was of high expectations. We were ranked nationally in the preseason, No. 1 in the state and had a lot of hype. Out coaching staff made sure to remind us that we hadn’t accomplished anything yet. Going up against Ed’s that night was one more step to the ultimate goal, and I remember being very businesslike before and after the game. Now, though, I can appreciate what it was — people standing on cars, people sneaking into the stadium — it was a fun point in time. Ed’s and Ignatius had obviously played each other before 1993, but I think that game really put the “Holy War” on the map. So as an old guy now, yeah, I think that game was a pretty big deal.
Mutryn: The game means more to me now. Maybe it was being young and knowing our ultimate goal was more than beating St. Ed’s; it was a state title. But as a 17-year-old, I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of the game. Now, though, I appreciate how amazing it was to be a part of such a special game. It’s like a good bottle of wine — the lore and the plays get better with age.
Author: Jeff Kasler | Editor: Paul Glavic | Production: Scott Sargent