By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Greater Catholic League South Division members La Salle and St. Xavier opened defense of their respective state football championships with impressive victories Friday night in the opening round of the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament, while GCL South colleague and nine-time state champion Moeller was eliminated from postseason play with a loss at Colerain.
La Salle (9-2), looking for a four-peat at the Division II level and the top seed in Region 8 , extended its playoff winning streak to 16 games by scoring 24 quick points in the latter stages of the second quarter and opening minutes of the third to post a 45-10 victory over Harrison at La Salle High School’s Lancer Stadium. With the game tied at 7, Jake Seibert kicked a 37-yarf field goal and senior Shane McNally intercepted a pass and returned it 47 yards to give the Lancers a 17-7 halftime lead. In the first three minutes of the third quarter, La Salle got a 47-yard TD run from sophomore Cameron Porter and a 32-yard TD strike from senior Griffin Merritt to Seibert to make it 31-7.
McNally returned another interception 100 yards for a score on the game’s final play.
The Lancers, who have now won four straight games, advance to meet Sidney (10-1) in the regional semifinals at 7:30 p.m. at Miamisburg High School. Sidney advanced with a 46-33 win over Dayton Belmont Friday. Merritt and Porter led the La Salle offense against Harrison (8-3). Merritt completed 17-of-25 passes for 222 yards and two TDs, while Porter carried 10 times for 78 yards and a pair of scores. Once again, it was the La Salle defense did the rest – forcing five turnovers and limiting Harrison to just one TD. The Lancers have now allowed two opponents to score more than 18 points – GCL South champion St. Xavier in a loss and Moeller in a 28-24 win.
Anderson (10-1) and Winton Woods (10-1) meet in the other Region 8 semifinal at Lakota West. St. Xavier (10-1), the defending Division I state champion and top seed in Region 4, trailed Fairfield, 6-2, early before scoring the game’s next 38 points to take a 40-12 win over the Indians at St. Xavier Stadium. Senior quarterback Chase Wolf, the GCL South player of the year, connected on 23-of-37 passes for a career-best 374 yards and four TDs – giving him 2,213 passing yards with 24 TD passes and just two interceptions. Senior Andrew Wittrock hauled in five passes for 151 yards, including a 77-yard TD, while junior Jared Kreimer also had five catches for 127 yards, featuring a 42-yard scoring catch as time expired in the second quarter to give St. Xavier a 23-6 halftime lead.
Senior Cam Specht caught a team-high seven passes for 60 yards and one TD. Wolf’s four TD passes all went to different receivers, as senior Nick Shamsi also caught a scoring pass for the Bombers. St. Xavier also opened last postseason with a win against Fairfield (6-5), forcing five turnovers to record a 35-14 victory at Fairfield Stadium to begin its unprecedented postseason run as the Bombers became the first team in OHSAA history at any level to finish the regular season at 5-5 and go on to win a state championship, the third in school history (2005 and 2007 being the others).
The Bombers will now face Sycamore (9-2) in the regional semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mason High School. The two teams played a classic in last year’s state playoffs as St. Xavier rallied after being down 28-14 with seven minutes remaining to score two late fourth-quarter TDs to force overtime and emerge with a 35-28 overtime win in the regional final. Quarterback Sean Clifford, now a freshman at Penn State University, hit Wittrock with a nine-yard TD pass for the game-winning score in OT. Clifford accounted for 400 total yards and four scores to lead the Bombers. Sycamore advanced Friday with a 41-35 win in double overtime against Milford.
Moeller, which entered the playoffs as the No. 7 seed, was unable to get untracked against Colerain (9-2), which has now won nine straight games since opening the regular season with a 7-3 loss at La Salle and a home 20-17 setback in OT to St. Xavier. The Cardinals’ defense held Moeller to just eight first downs, 147 total yards and forced five Crusader turnovers. It was quite a night for cousins Dan and Luke Bolden, who combined to record 13 tackles and intercept two passes (one returned 19 yards for a score by Dan) for the Cardinals.
Colerain held a 14-0 halftime lead before scoring three third-quarter TDs to open a 35-0 advantage. Senior quarterback Gunnar Leyendecker carried nine times for 166 yards and had two of his three completions go for scores. The Cardinals advance to meet Mason (9-2) in the regional semifinals. Mason advanced with a 26-0 win Friday at home against West Clermont, the Comets’ fourth straight shutout and fifth in the last seven games. Mason, in fact, has won five straight since suffering a 36-10 loss at Colerain in week six of the regular season. Colerain and Mason will play at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Princeton High School’s Viking Stadium.
Moeller (4-7) closed the season with three straight losses and six defeats in its last seven games against a difficult schedule.