By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
The four Greater Catholic League South Division football teams stepped away from league competition Friday to post a perfect 4-0 record, including road victories by Elder and Moeller over previously unbeaten teams that could prove extremely valuable as both schools look to solidify their resumes and ultimatelyearn a berth in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division I state playoffs that begin in early November.
Elder (5-3), which entered its game at previously unbeaten and talent-laden Winton woods sitting at No. 9 in this week’s Harbin computer ratings (one spot short of earning a postseason berth), emerged with a 35-34 victory in overtime to win for the second consecutive week and snap a two-game losing streak to Winton woods (7-1). Panthers’ junior quarterback Michael Bittner accounted for five touchdowns for the second straight game, going 18-of-26 Passing for 250 yards and two TDs, while also rushing 22 times for 68 yards and three scores – including a 1-yard TD in overtime.
This might have been the most exciting version of the Elder-Winton Woods series that began in 3023. The Warriors took a 14-0 lead early before Elder got untracked offensively in the second quarter, scoring twice to the game, 14-14, at halftime. Elder took a 21-14 into the fourth quarter on the second TD connection from Bittner to senior Danny Faillace (six catches, 72 yards) before Winton Woods tied it at 21-21 and both teams traded scores to force OT. After Bittner score and the Panthers’ Sam Harmeyer converted, Winton Woods answered but the potential tying extra point was wide left.
Moeller (4-4), which had dropped three straight and four of its last five, traveled to Greater Columbus to meet Cleveland St. Ignatius (7-1), last year’s Division I state runner-up and the No. 3-ranked team in last week’s Associated Press Division state rankings. The Crusaders recorded eight sacks and took advantage of some big plays on offense, defense and special teams to post a 41-20 win at Otterbein University in Westerville. Senior Colin Thurman carried 23 times for 138 yards and two TDs, including a 76-yarder, and junior lineman Ryan Mullaney recorded 2.5 sacks and returned a fumble 21 yards for a TD to give Moeller an early 13-6 lead.
St. Ignatius, which had defeated Elder, 30-28, two weeks earlier and is scheduled to play St. Xavier this week in Cleveland, was looking to remain undefeated. But Moeller turned in a winning effort defensively, limiting the Wildcats to just 3-of-13 on third-down conversions and forcing three turnovers. The Crusaders also were solid special teams, as junior RJ Khayo returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown. Khayo also hauled in a 27-yard scoring pass from junior Austin Bradfish, who was making his first start at quarterback. Moeller’s defense finished the scoring with a late safety.
St. Xavier and La Salle, which entered Friday as the No. 1 teams in their respective Harbin regional rankings, both posted wins. The defending DI state champion Bombers (8-0), who sit atop the Region 4 computer ratings and also are ranked No. 1 in the AP DI state poll and The Enquirer’s DI area weekly coaches’ poll, recorded a 47-14 win over Clarkson High School from Mississauga, Ontario at St. Xavier Stadium. La Salle (6-2), No. 1 in the Region 8 ratings and the three-time defending DII state champions, rebounded from the previous week’s loss at St. Xavier to record a 17-9 win at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
The Bombers extended their winning streak to 14 games, as senior quarterback Chase Wolf completed 13-of-17 passes for 204 yards and two scores, both going to junior running back Matthew Fox. Wolf has now thrown 18 TD passes and just one interception through eight games. Senior Andrew Wittrock returned a punt 55 yards for a score, and sophomore running back Kellen Newman carried the ball three times, two for TDs. St. Xavier won the GCL South championship outright with wins over Moeller, Elder and La Salle the previous three weeks.
La Salle scored on both sides of the ball, getting an 82-yard TD pass from senor Griffin Merritt to freshman Jake Seibert (five catches, 110 yards) to give the Lancers a 7-0 advantage in the first quarter. La Salle’s defense, which had held opponents to single digits in six of eight games, held SVSM without a TD until the just over two minutes were left in the game. The Lancers also got a 77-yard interception return for a score from freshman Shane McNally.
In all, it was a solid night for the GCL South – which according to JoeEitel.com, a site that projects how teams will be ranked each week in the official Harbin computer ratings announced each Tuesday at noon by the OHSAA. According to the site Saturday morning, St. Xavier holds on to the top spot in Region 4, while Moeller moves up to No. 3 and Elder to No. 5 after last night’s games. The top eight teams in each region qualify for the postseason, with the top four teams hosting first-round games on Friday, November 3. La Salle, with its win, is projected to remain at No. 1 in Region 8 in next week’s ratings.