A strong program working to get stronger.
That’s how Bill Peebles described Cathedral High School football during a 2018 season that marked his first as the program’s head coach.
No, the Irish didn’t win a state title – and yes, Peebles said the Irish ideally would have gone further in the postseason. Still, even with a sectional-final loss, this was a successful debut.
“We were disappointed we didn’t get through it, but we had some pretty remarkable things happen,” Peebles said.
The Irish (6-6) not only won two postseason games, they beat a strong Roncalli program in the sectional semifinal and turned in an impressive 20-14 regular-season overtime victory over Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier in the Cathedral 100-year anniversary game.
“A special day,” Peebles called the victory over St. Xavier, adding: “We had some really special moments. We had a really tough schedule, but we had some really good moments throughout the season.”
The Irish beat Plainfield, 51-14, in the first round of the Class 5A, Section 13 playoffs; then beat Roncalli, 30-14, in the second round. They lost to Decatur Central, 21-14, in the sectional final on November 2.
“The expectations here are high, and the bottom line is your expectation is to win your last game of the year,” said Peebles, who took over for longtime coach and current Irish Athletics Director Rick Streiff following the 2017 season. “That’s not always going to happen.
“But each year is a building process. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing the best job we can to put our kids in a position to be successful. We made some tremendous strides in many areas.”
Among those strides: a 55-player freshman class that Peebles said is a necessary first step to rebuilding the program in terms of size. Whereas the Irish had 100 players in the varsity program around the turn of the decade, the number this season was around 75 to 80.
“We’ve got a little bit of a rebuilding process going,” Peebles said. “We’ve got to make sure our numbers get back up. I think we’re building a really solid foundation.”
The Irish this season won five of their last seven games, finishing the regular season 4-5.
Key to the ’18 season: a foursome of captains – wide receiver Bo Sanders, running back Chon’Dre Cissell, cornerback Dorion Collins and defensive lineman Grant Monesmith – and a strong senior class that helped ease the coaching transition,
“They did a great job leading the team,” Peebles said. “They all had very significant roles on the field and off the field. … Transition is never easy, and this one was pretty easy because we have great kids. They welcomed me with open arms. They’re hard-working, diligent group and they were easy to coach.”
Tight end Haven Montefalco had a breakout season, catching 44 passes for 734 yards and four touchdowns. He has been offered by Harvard, Yale, Princeton and multiple schools in the Midwest. Also key: senior offensive linemen Blake Kaufman and Jacob Schommer and defensive linemen Joe Finnell and Monesmith.
Peebles said senior linebackers Richard Hagarty and Will Chapman formed the core of a strong linebacker unit, and Collins led in interceptions despite missing five games.
Junior quarterback Orin Edwards completed 185 of 313 passes for 2,387 yards and 23 touchdowns with four interceptions. Cissell rushed for 1,020 yards and 12 touchdowns and junior running back Daylen Hall rushed for 384 yards and two touchdowns.
Sanders caught 83 passes for 1,070 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“We had some very good underclass skill players,” Peebles said, adding of the offense: “When we were playing well we were a very balanced team. We were able to run and pass. And stay balanced. Our offensive line could open holes and we had a solid passing game.”
“We were a little hit and miss in the running game. When we were on, it made us a powerful offensive team. When we weren’t, we were one-dimensional and it became difficult for us.”
Other key returners include: sophomore wide receiver Cam Jordan, sophomore wide receiver David Perry, junior linebacker Will Goheen, junior linebacker Quinton Cannon and junior free safety Shiloh Means.
“We improved throughout the year significantly defensively,” Peebles said. We allowed big plays early on and weren’t as sound. Our last game was an outlier because we had done a great job the second half of the season shutting down the running game. That last game we gave up some yardage from against the running game, which we were really surprised about.”
And Peebles said while the disappointment of the final loss will linger, the optimism around a strong program that’s getting stronger is real.
“We were a good football team, and I’d put us up against anybody,” Peebles said. “I wasn’t happy with the way we played in the last game. That being said, Decatur Central is a really good team and deserved to win that game. They beat us based on their performance, but I didn’t feel like we played our best for sure.
“We’ve got to get the numbers back up and our player development program has to get better. We’re competing against teams that put significant amount of time and resources into their football program. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing the same thing. It’s an area we need to improve on.
“We’ve done some good things and we need to continue to build.”