In Cleveland they call it "The Holy War." It's the annual ‘footbrawl' between St. Edward and St. Ignatius, and this year's version is slated for Saturday at Parma Byers Field at 7 p.m.
"It means everything in the world to me right now. It's the biggest game of my life," said Alex Boone. "It's a war. It's a Holy War between two schools that have been going at it for decades now."
Boone tries not to make it personal, but he said it's hard not to.
"I don't want to say that I dislike all of them, but there are many kids on their team that I do very much dislike," he said. "But other than that, it's just basically the rivalry between the schools. They have a great team this year, we have a great team this year and I think it's going to be an all-out battle out there."
Ironically, with the forfeiture of four Eagle victories just a week in their past, this game means even more than the playoffs for Boone this week. There's Ohio State and Michigan, the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers and then there's St. Edward and St. Ignatius.
"It means everything. It kind of means the whole season really," Boone said. "We could have lost every game but as long as we win this one, our spirits will be sky high. But now that we've had things stolen from us, I think it makes this game even more important. So we're ready to go and we're so prepared right now that it really will be a war."
‘Stolen' is the operative word that Boone chose to use in regards to the four wins that were moved over into in the loss column after the decision by the OHSAA last week.
"As a man, I can say that we were robbed, and I don't mean that with any disrespect to anybody," he said. "But we clearly won those games fair and square, and I'm not making any excuses for us. I hate people that make excuses. But we clearly won those games and that player had no effect on the outcome. But as of right now I could really care less. It's Ignatius this week and that's all that I'm worried about."
Boone in action against Cincinnati St. Xavier. St. Edward won the game 23-17, their closest game of the year to date
The Eagles have not and will not deviate from their season-long plan.
"Our plan was always to win every game, and as long as we win every game then we will make the playoffs," Boone said. "So we're really not down. We're kind of down that things were stolen from us that were rightly ours, and so I think the rest of the teams should beware."
Although it was an unpopular decision made by the OHSAA, they followed the letter of the law when many people were hoping that they would favorably consider the spirit for which the law is written instead.
"I understand it and I believe, in a way, it's just what happened," Boone said. "But in another way, and, again, I don't want to disrespect anybody, I think that we were robbed of what was rightly ours."
So does the game mean more because it's Ignatius or because it's another team that St. Ed's has to beat to get into the playoffs?
"Right now, it's beat Ignatius," Boone said. "This week is beat Ignatius. That's it. Next week it will be beat Moeller and the week after that it's beat Benedictine. Our season is really starting right now. It's starting all over. This is the playoffs for us."
The Eagles began preparing for the worst after week five when the school's administration turned itself in for using an ineligible player in four of their victories.
"Two weeks ago, we said that this was a 10-week battle," Boone said. "We were on top of the mountain and we just got knocked off, and we were starting from the bottom and we can't lose. If we lose, it's ‘go home crying' and I think that everybody understands that, and so far this week we have had the greatest week of practice that we've had all year. Everybody is focused and everybody is ready to go, and we all know what's on the line. We have nothing to lose and they have everything."
Even winning-out by the Eagles, who are now 3-4 and ranked 12th in Division I-Region I, doesn't guarantee anything at this juncture.
"I believe that we're going to win out and that we're going to win the state this year," Boone said. "I believe it. I couldn't be a true leader and say that I don't believe it."
Boone and St. Edward vs. St. X
The ruling was demoralizing at first, but the Eagles were quick to pick up the pieces.
"When I first heard it, it really felt like somebody broke in your house and stole the most important thing to you," he said. "We worked so hard for those victories, and then in the end they just mean nothing now. And no matter what happens, we'll always be called cheaters because of this. But some people I don't think understand and others do. Others understand that he really didn't have an effect on the games and some don't understand that.
"So yeah, at first it was demoralizing for the first half hour, and then we went into the weight room. We decided that if they're going to take from us, then we're going to take from everybody else. It's go-time now, and here come the playoffs. It's 10 weeks of playoffs for us, and we've never had so much fun in our lives as right now."
They know Ignatius is a formidable foe for them having only lost one game this season.
"Their coach is probably one of the greatest coaches ever and they're a big threat to us," Boone said. "But were a big threat to them, and I think that if we win then we're sitting in a great spot. They only have one loss, and that's a lot of computer points so, like I said, it's going to be an all-out battle.
"Come game day in that locker room, five minutes before the game, I could guarantee that it's not going to be fun and games. This is go-time now and this is how we come back and this is how we react. Adversity makes you better. If life gives you lemons, then you make lemonade out of it. That's how we're all treating it and we're all happy about it."
The expectation that Boone has of the outcome for his team in this game is rather obvious at this point.
"I would have to say I'm very confident," he said. "I think that if we play up to our expectations, then without a doubt there will be a ‘W' on Saturday."
In a way, this adversity makes their season potentially even more spectacular than many were thinking that it would be in the first place.
"The first week this happened, we were saying that this is the thing that movies are made out of," Boone said. "So no matter what happens, we're a team. We're 7-0 right now, and I don't think anybody could take that away from us. We won those games and that's how we see it."
Boone was glad to hear that Dan Doering has some interest in Ohio State after visiting there this past weekend and he said he would love to see the big guy from Illinois be a part of this recruiting class.
"I think that if he committed to Ohio State, with the kid from Florida that might commit and the kid from California that already is committed, wow, that would be a great lineup right there," Boone said. "Those three guys plus the one from Lancaster, Jim Cordle, those four, without a doubt, are the greatest group I've seen in a long time."
I had to remind him that he would add substantially to that group.
Will Boone enroll early? The Army All-American Bowl is January 15 so it's likely that Boone will have to finish up high school and then enroll for the spring quarter in time for spring ball like Tony Pittman did last year.
"I am planning on enrolling early," he said. "Right now I'm not really sure what's going to happen. All I know is that I'm going to be playing in the game, and I'm just going to leave that other stuff up to my counselors. That's the game plan."