By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Greater Catholic League South Division members La Salle and St. Xavier defend their respective regional championships Friday night as both teams attempt to take the next step toward successful state football title defenses too when the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Tournament continues at neural sites. St. Xavier will face its annual postseason opponent Colerain in the Division I, Region 4 final at Mason High School’s Atrium Stadium, while La Salle looks to avenge one of its two losses this season when it meets Winton Woods in the Division II, Region 8 final at Withrow’s Angus King Stadium. Kickoffs are 7:30 p.m.
Both games match the top two seeds in each region.
No. 1 St. Xavier (11-1), vying for its eighth straight postseason victory, also is looking to sweep what has become an annual series with No. 2 Colerain (10-2). The Cardinals are riding a 10-game winning streak since opening the season with consecutive losses to GCL South opponents – 7-3 at La Salle in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown and then a 20-17 overtime setback to St. Xavier at Colerain, a game the Cardinals led 14-0 midway through the fourth quarter before the Bombers rallied behind senior quarterback Chase Wolf – the GCL South Player of the Year.
Colerain and St. Xavier have played each other twice the last three years, once in the regular season and again in the state playoffs. The last three games and four of the last five meetings have been decided in OT, with St. Xavier winning the last two times – including a come-from-behind, 29-23 OT victory in last year’s regional semifinals that helped propel the Bombers to five consecutive postseason wins to become the first school in OHSAA history at any level to finish the regular season at 5-5 and go on to win a state championship. St. Xavier beat Cleveland St. Ignatius, 27-20, in two OTs in the state final.
This game figures to be one of the best around the state, as both teams are playing their best football. St. Xavier’s only setback this season is to St. Ignatius, 28-14, on the road in week nine. The outright GCL South champions have won three straight since, including postseason wins over Fairfield (40-12) and Sycamore (37-7) in impressive fashion – highlighted by its passing and rushing attacks, respectively, and a defense that has been sound all season. Against Fairfield, Wolf threw for a career-best 374 yards and tossed four TD passes, before the Bombers used a rushing attack that carried 30 times for 214 yards and four scores against Sycamore.
St. Xavier’s defense allowed just 20 first downs and 490 total yards in the last two games. The Bombers trailed in both games, 6-2 against Fairfield and 7-0 versus Sycamore in the first quarters, but allowed only six points in the final three quarters of both playoff games. St. Xavier has allowed only two teams to score more than 14 points this season – St. Ignatius (28) in its only loss and Colerain (17) in its OT victory. Six of the Bombers’ 12 opponents have been held to single digits. Seniors Bobby Jefferson II and Blake Bacevich, a University of Cincinnati commit, rank among the league leaders in sacks, with seven and five, respectively.
It won’t be easy stopping the potent Colerain triple option, which is turning in eye-popping numbers each week. In its two playoff wins, Colerain has beaten Moeller, 45-0, and then Mason, 49-21 – combining to rush for 831 yards and nine TDs in the two games. In its win over Mason last Friday, the Cardinals gained 476 yards on the ground and scored six rushing TDs. This came against a Mason defense that had recorded four straight shutouts, five in its last six games and six this season. Cardinals’ junior fullback Ivan Pace Jr. rushed 22 times for 232 yards and four scores, while senior quarterback Gunnar Leyendecker carried 12 times for 162 yards and one TD.
Since its week two loss to St. Xavier, Colerain has scored 38 or more points in 10 straight games.
Like Colerain-St. Xavier, the La Salle-Winton Woods matchup also figures to be one of the state’s best at any level. No. 1 La Salle (10-2), the three-time defending DII state champ, puts a 17-game playoff winning streak on the line against No. 2 Winton Woods (11-1) – a team believed by many to be the most talented in its class in the state. The Warriors’ lone loss is to GCL South member Elder, a Division I school that posted a 35-34 OT win at Winton Woods in week eight, after the Warriors’ potential, game-tying extra point hit the upright and bounced wide left.
Winton Woods, coming off an impressive 52-21 win over Anderson in the regional semifinals (the Warriors led 52-15 at halftime), beat La Salle, 18-15, on the road back in week five. La Salle held a 7-5 lead heading into the final quarter before Winton Woods scored two TDs on runs from Kenny Mayberry and Miyan Williams to put the Warriors in the lead for good. All things considered, the stingy La Salle defense held down a Winton Woods’ offense that has been rolling all season – limiting Mayberry and Williams to 40 rushes for 139 yards, less than four yards a rush.
Against Anderson, which finished an impressive 10-2, Mayberry completed 12-of-15 passes for 215 yards and two scores, while Williams ran 15 times for 111 yards and three scores. The previous week, Winton Woods opened with a 61-27 win against Chillicothe. The strength of La Salle, though, is its defense. The Lancers, who boast two of the top three tacklers in the GCL South in juniors Jarred Uran (95, first) and Garrett Bledsoe (81, third), have allowed just two opponents to score more than 18 points this season in St. Xavier (a 52-7 loss) and Moeller (a 28-24 victory).
Senior Craig Wills lead the league with four interceptions, as the Lancers have picked off nine passes this season. La Salle has won five straight games and, during that streak, the Lancers have not allowed an opponent to score more than 10 points. Coach Pat McLaughlin’s team also has been opportunistic, with senior Sam Hildebrand returning two kickoffs for touchdowns, while senior Shane McNally returned his two interceptions for scores in a first-round playoff win over Harrison – the first covering 47 yards and the second 100 yards on the final play of the game. Wills has also returned an interception for a score.
Advance tickets to both regional finals are available at the schools for $8. Tickets are $9 at the gate.