Three-time defending Division II state champion La Salle and St. Xavier begin their postseason journeys and title defense as the top seeds in their respective regions when the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament begins Friday night. La Salle, the top seed in Region 8, will host No. 8 Harrison at 7:30 p.m. today at Lancer Stadium. St. Xavier, the Greater Catholic League South champion, winner of 15 of its last 16 games and No. 1 seed in Region 4 all season, will welcome No. 8 Fairfield to St. Xavier Stadium at 7:30 tonight.
No. 7 Moeller (4-6), making its first state playoff appearance in three years, will travel to No. 2 Colerain at 7:30 p.m. today. Colerain has won eight consecutive games since close losses to GCL South members La Salle, 7-3, and St. Xavier, 20-17, in overtime the first two weeks of the season. Elder, the fourth GCL South member, narrowly missed qualifying for postseason play – finishing ninth in Region 4 in the final Harbin computer ratings used to determine which teams make the state playoffs. The Panthers (6-4) finished just percentage points behind Fairfield, 17.35 to 17.3395.
Here is a look at this week’s first-round games involving GCL South schools:
Division I, Region 4
St. Xavier (9-1) vs. Fairfield (6-4) – The Bombers are looking to successfully defend their 2016 state title, third in school history (also winning in 2005 and 2007), and they likely are talented enough to make a deep run in the postseason. St. Xavier spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Division I state poll, and its only loss was two weeks ago to Cleveland St. Ignatius, which is No. 1 in this week’s final state rankings. These two teams also met in the state final last season, a 27-20 St. Xavier victory in double overtime.
St. Xavier is led by senior quarterback Chase Wolf, who has completed 169-of-262 passes for a GCL South-leading 1,839 yards, 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions. These two teams last met in the opening round of the 2016 state playoffs, with St. Xavier forcing five turnovers and emerging with a 35-14 win at Fairfield Stadium that began its postseason run. The Indians are talented, and their four losses are all to playoff teams in Colerain, Mason, Centerville and Northmont. Fairfield’s defense is led by UC commit Malik Vann, and 6-foot-5, 255-pound senior Jackson Carman anchors the offensive line. He is one of the highest ranked offensive linemen in the country.
Moeller (4-6) vs. Colerain (8-2) – The Crusaders are back in the postseason for the first time in three years. Moeller’s schedule this season was brutal – facing four teams with at least nine regular-season wins (GCL South colleague St. Xavier, Cleveland St. Ignatius, Lakewood St. Edward and Louisville Trinity with a combined record of 37-3), and two teams that posted eight wins(La Salle and Scott County, Ky.). Now, all the Crusaders must do is knock off a Colerain team that has not lost since early September and is annually considered a threat to win the regional title.
Moeller, which lost at Winton Woods, 35-14, in the regular-season finale last Friday and has dropped five of its last six games, is hoping for a performance similar to the one it turned in back in week eight, a 41-20 win over St. Ignatius in Columbus. In that game, the Crusaders were opportunistic and able to take advantage of big plays. Defensively, Moeller will look to junior lineman Ryan Mullaney – who led the GCL South in sacks this season, with 14.5 – and its two leading tacklers in junior linebacker Luke Szabados (82) and senior defensive back Alex Dehyle (66). They will be called upon to stop Colerain’s high-powered option attack.
La Salle (8-2) vs. Harrison (8-2) – The Lancers enter the postseason with momentum after defeating Elder, 13-7, last Friday at Lancer Stadium to secure the top spot in Region 8. La Salle is a perfect 15-0 in the state playoffs the last three years to earn three straight state titles – the first GCL South team to do so since Moeller won Class AAA championships in 1975, 1976 and 1977. La Salle has done it mostly with defense this year, as the Lancers have held the opposition to single digits in five games and allowed only two opponents – St. Xavier and Moeller – to score more than 18 points in a game.
Coach Pat McLaughlin will look to experienced senior quarterback Griffin Merritt to lead the Lancers on offense. La Salle should be tested, with the Lancers’ only losses this season to a pair of 9-1 teams in St. Xavier and Winton Woods. Harrison, however, enters the game riding a five-game winning streak. The Wildcats finished second in the Southwest Ohio Conference behind Edgewood, posting a 5-1 league record. Harrison’s only losses this season are to 9-1 Anderson, also a playoff team in Division II, Region 8, and 8-2 Edgewood. Senior quarterback Frankie Young leads the SWOC in passing yards, with 1,857, and TDs, with 20.