Gridiron Greats

Four tradition-rich high school football teams face off Aug. 28 at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Nearly 71,000 fans gathered on the lakeshore in 1946 to watch Cathedral Latin defeat Holy Name 35-6. It was the largest high school football crowd in Ohio history. But for St. Edward coach Rick Finotti, it's also family lore. His grandfather, Bill Belanich, was on the winning Lions' coaching staff.

"I've heard all the stories about the charity-game legends, and to be involved is overwhelming," Finotti says. "Cleveland has always been all about football."

The annual charity game was first played at old Cleveland Stadium in 1931. After a doubleheader format was tried in 1970-71, the charity series went dormant until 2005. The doubleheader returned with it. This year, Mentor plays Lakewood St. Edward at 3 p.m., and 10-time state champion Cleveland St. Ignatius faces off against Lake Catholic at 7 p.m. The fearsome foursome went a combined 33-13 in 2009.

"It's the most potent lineup assembled since the charity series resumed," says Tim Fitzpatrick of Home Team Marketing, which is co-sponsoring the event with the Browns. "The four coaches' combined winning percentage is over .700. The teams have 64 playoff appearances, 19 in the state finals, and 13 championships."

This will be a rematch of Mentor's 28-15 home win last August. The Eagles had 473 yards of offense, but Mentor scored on a 61-yard punt return and a 98-yard interception to take the lead and ultimately put the game away.

ST. EDWARD EAGLES » 2009 RECORD: 4-6 » COACH: Rick Finotti » KEY PLAYER: DL Deonte Gibson (third team All-Ohio) » IN THEIR OWN WORDS: "Last year was a bit of a transition with a new coaching staff, but we're bringing stability and pride back to the program," Finotti says. But the '09 record is deceiving. The last three losses were to teams ranked third (Cincinnati Xavier), second (Cincinnati Moeller) and first (St. Ignatius) in Ohio at the time.

MENTOR CARDINALS » 2009 RECORD: 6-4 » COACH: Steve Trivisonno » KEY PLAYER: RB Mike Korecz (2,228 yards, 31 rushing TDs in career, first team All-Ohio) > IN THEIR OWN WORDS: "We've had success at Browns Stadium," athletic director Jeff Cassella says. Mentor defeated Cleveland Glenville there twice in 2006, winning 15-13 in week one and 29-19 in a regional semifinal.

St. Ignatius leads the all-time series 9-6 but has lost 48 seniors including quarterback Mark Myers, the 2009 Division I offensive player of the year. Lake Catholic outscored foes 445-216 last year but must replace graduated quarterback Jerrod Ronyak.

ST. IGNATIUS WILDCATS » 2009 RECORD: 11-1 » COACH: Chuck Kyle » KEY PLAYERS: RB Bobby Grebenc (second team All-Ohio) and OT Mike Ramos (6'4", 270) » IN THEIR OWN WORDS: "Coach always talks about what it means to represent Cleveland, and playing for charity with these three great programs is a huge honor," says athletic director Rory Fitzpatrick. Coach Kyle played in the Wildcats' 14-14 tie against John F. Kennedy in the '68 game.

LAKE CATHOLIC COUGARS » 2009 RECORD: 12-2 » COACH: Mike Bell > KEY PLAYER: LB Joe Ribeiro (first team All-Ohio, co-Defensive Player of Year) » IN THEIR OWN WORDS: "We have a lot of three-year starters coming back," says 2009 first team All-Ohio OL/DE Chase Hounshell, who has scholarship offers from nearly 20 colleges. "I think we have a great shot to win a state title if we stay focused."

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