By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Freshman Luke Thiemann intercepted a pass on the goal line as time expired, helping the La Salle defense turn away Elder for a third time in the fourth quarter to preserve a 13-7 victory Friday night in a driving rain from start to finish at La Salle High School’s Lancer Stadium – earning La Salle sole possession of second place in the Greater Catholic League South Division and likely helping the Lancers secure the top seed in Division II, Region 8 entering the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament that begins next Friday at campus sites. La Salle, the three-time defending state champion, will host the No. 8 seed next Friday according to projections.
GCL South champion St. Xavier, the defending Division I state champion and a 16-14 winner at Louisville St. Xavier in its regular-season finale Friday, had already wrapped up the top seed in Region 4 before the final games of the Ohio regular season. The Bombers’ first-round opponent, however, isn’t to be decided until later tonight depending on the outcome of the Northeast Ohio showdown between unbeaten and top-ranked Lakewood St. Edward (9-0) and Cleveland St. Ignatius (8-1), which is ranked No. x in this week’s Associated Press state rankings.
The outcome of that game will have a direct impact on the playoff fate of GCL South member Moeller, which lost at Winton Woods, 35-14, on Friday night. If St. Ignatius wins, Moeller will secure the eighth and final playoff spot in the region according to projections. Should St. Edward win, it appears that Fairfield would earn the No. 8 seed and final spot while Moeller would not make postseason play for the third consecutive year. Either Fairfield or Moeller would then travel to St. Xavier for a first-round game Friday.
It appears that Elder will be the No. 7 seed and travel to No. 2 Colerain on Friday. The final official Harbin computer ratings, used to qualify football teams for the playoffs, will be determined later this evening. The OHSAA will announce the official state football playoff pairings for all seven divisions Sunday afternoon.
A 35-28 victory by West Clermont at Milford in the regular-season finale has jumbled the Region 4 ratings. West Clermont, a new school comprising Amelia and Glen Este high schools, needed a win to make the playoffs. The Wolves earned that victory and a share of the Eastern Cincinnati Conference championship in the process, and appear to be the No. 6 seed. West Clermont is projected to play at No. 3 Mason, while No. 5 Milford is likely to face No. 4 Sycamore in a first-round game at Sycamore Stadium in Friday’s opening round.
Here is a look at Friday’s GCL South regular-season finales:
La Salle D Steps Up – The Lancers (8-2, 2-1 GCL South) earned their third straight win behind a defense that has been solid all season. Besides Thiemann’s interception, La Salle came up with big plays throughout the game. Junior linebacker Garrett Bledsoe finished with 15 total tackles, while junior Jarred Ulan – the leading tackler in the league – added 10 total tackles. Offensively, sophomore running back Cameron Porter scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown, a 14-yard run with four seconds left in the first half. Porter finished with 17 carries for 84 yards.
Junior quarterback Michael Bittner completed 11-of-19 passes for 124 yards, but was intercepted twice. Elder appeared to score a go-ahead TD inside the final minute on a 10-yard run by senor Jack Mazza, but the Panthers were called for holding on the play. After a La Salle penalty gave Elder a new set of downs at the Lancers’ 10 with 37 second left, Elder (6-4, 1-2) was unable to score. The Panthers also had a chance to score late at St. Xavier late, but were stopped on downs at the Bombers’ 2, preserving St. Xavier’s 14-6 victory back in week six.
Elder is now likely face Colerain (9-1), which has reeled off eight straight wins since opening the season with consecutive losses to GCL South members La Salle, 7-3 in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown, and then 20-17 at home to St. Xavier, a game the Cardinals led 14-0 with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. Colerain and Elder have met twice in the postseason in the last five years, with the Cardinals winning 35-34 in overtime back in the second round in 2012 and then 41-11 in the third round in 2015. Colerain is the Greater Miami Conference champion again this season.
Another St. X Streak? – A year ago, it was a victory over Louisville St. Xavier that earned the Bombers a state playoff berth and set the stage for an amazing postseason run that resulted in the school’s third state football championship, also winning in 2005 and 2007. After suffering its first loss of this season a week ago to St. Ignatius, ending a 14-game winning streak, the Bombers traveled to Louisville to pull out a two-point victory entering the state playoffs. Junior Chris Payne carried 21 times for 105 yards and one TD, while senior quarterback Chase Wolf connected on 19-of-26 passes for 144 yards and a score to help St. Xavier (9-1) to the win.
The Bombers’ defense, which has allowed more than 17 points only one this season (28 to St. Ignatius last week), turned in another winning performance for coach Steve Specht. St. Xavier took a 16-7 lead in the third quarter on an 8-yard TD run by Payne, and the defense did the rest – limiting Louisville St. Xavier (8-2) without a point from midway through the first quarter until 6:54 was left in the game when the Tigers hit a long scoring pass. Louisville St. Xavier is ranked No. 2 behind Louisville Trinity in the Class 6A Kentucky state poll.
Moeller Must Wait – After vaulting back into the playoff picture with a 41-20 win against St. Ignatius in Columbus 15 days ago, Moeller (4-6) has suffered consecutive losses to wind up back on the playoff buddle. With the score tied at 7, Winton Woods scored three straight TDs – all on defense thanks to Warriors’ senior safety Gianni Gamble – to build a 28-7 lead at the end of the first quarter in its home victory Friday night. First, Gamble blocked a Moeller punt that was returned by a teammate for a score; he then intercepted a pass and returned it for a TD, and later recovered a fumble the end zone for a third score.
Moeller took a 7-0 lead with 5:32 left in the first quarter on a 17-yard scoring pass from Mitch McKenzie to tight end Brendan Bates. Winton Woods tied the score 18 seconds later when senior running back Miyan Williams ran 77 yards for a TD. Williams finished with a game-high 159 yards rushing on 14 carries for the Warriors. Then, it was Gamble who took over – blocking two punts and returning an interception 20 yards for a TD to give Winton Woods a 2-1 record against the GCL South this year. The Warriors won 18-15 at La Salle and lost 35-34 in overtime to Elder. Winton Woods (9-1) is the No. 2 seed in Region 8 behind La Salle.
The Crusaders must now wait for the outcome of a game between the two teams it has played two of the last three weeks, St. Edward and St. Edward, which knocked off Moeller, 31-7, last Saturday in Greater Cleveland. If St. Ignatius wins, Moeller would receive enough second-level points from a team it defeated two weeks ago that should be enough to earn the team the eighth seed in Region 4 – according to projections. If St. Edward wins, Fairfield would likely earn the final regional playoff spot and a trip to St. Xavier.