By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
The official playoff pairings for the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament will be announced Sunday afternoon but, after the final night of the regular season on another cold and rainy Friday, projections have three teams from the Greater Catholic League South Division – league champion Moeller, Elder and St. Xavier – earning berths in the postseason. Elder is likely to be one of the region’s top four seeds, earning a first-round home game, while Moeller and St. Xavier – which needed one more win and got it last night – are likely headed for first-round road games.
According to the website joeeitel.com, which projects where schools stand and ultimately will finish in the Harbin computer ratings system used the OHSAA to qualify teams for its state football playoffs, and the predictions from Greater Miami Conference commissioner Steve Shuck (a longtime state football playoff analyst), Elder will finish No. 3 in Division I, Region 4 and likely host GCL South champion and No. 6 seed Moeller in the first round next Friday. St. Xavier is projected to finish as the eighth seed and, as a result, earn a trek to top seed and unbeaten Colerain – which is ranked No. 1 in DI in Ohio.
St. Xavier defeated Louisville St. Xavier, 34-7, as part of the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown at St. Xavier Stadium’s Ballaban Field on Friday night to finish at 5-5 and it appears earn a berth in the postseason again. The Bombers have qualified 10 straight years, the longest run for any local DI school. The Colerain-St. Xavier games have become instant classics over the last few years, customarily meeting in week two of the regular season and then matching up again in the playoffs. This, however, will be the first time the two teams have met in the first round since 2012, when Colerain defeated the Bombers, 35-14, on its home field.
Coach Steve Specht’s team also entered the playoffs 5-5 two years ago, when it became the first football team at any level in Ohio prep gridiron history to go on and win a state championship after entering postseason play at .500. The Bombers defeated Cleveland St. Ignatius, 27-20, in double overtime in the state final that year to cap an improbable run through the DI state playoff field. St. Xavier defeated Colerain, 29-23, in overtime after trailing 23-7 with just 4:39 remaining in the third quarter in a second-round matchup that year.
This season, Colerain rallied in the second half to get past the Bombers, 14-12, on September 1 in a game that St. Xavier led 6-0 at halftime before it was suspended because of inclement weather and resumed the following morning at St. Xavier. Touchdown runs by JJ Davis and Ivan Pace Jr. in the third quarter were the difference, as the Cardinals took advantage of five St. Xavier turnovers.
Elder (6-4, 2-1 GCL South) got a 22-yard field goal from Sam Harneyer with 1:52 remaining to snap a 7-7 tied and earn the Panthers a 13-10 victory against La Salle on Friday at The Pit in the GCL South finale for both schools. The win is projected to earn Elder the No. 3 seed in Region 4, with a potential first-round game and rematch against No. 6 seed and GCL South champion Moeller – which rallied in the second half to defeat Elder, 24-21, at Nippert Stadium during the regular season to earn the Crusaders’ first outright league title since 2013, the last year it won a DI state championship. Elder senior quarterback Michael Bittner accounted for nearly 300 yards total offense in the win.
The loss at Elder was the fourth straight for La Salle (4-5, 0-3), which needed a road win and some help from other teams in its region to earn a playoff berth. The Lancers, who have won three of the last four DII state titles, are projected to finish at No. 10 in Region 8. La Salle started the season with four wins in its first five games before falling to Moeller, 21-14, in OT at home in the GCL South opener in week six. The Lancers then lost to St. Xavier, had a game canceled with International School of Broward, Fla. because of Hurricane Michael, and then fell to Trinity Catholic from St. Louis in week nine.
Moeller (6-4) rallied back from a 12-point deficit to take a 17-14 lead against Winton Woods last night at Lockland’s Roettger Stadium, only to have the Warriors score a fourth-quarter defensive touchdown to emerge with a 21-17 victory. The setback was the second close loss in a row for Moeller, which fell to Lakewood St. Edward, 29-22, in the final two minutes last Saturday.
Winton Woods is 2-0 against the GCL South this season, also having defeated Elder, 28-10, earlier this season at The Pit to help close the regular season with nine straight victories. The Warriors (9-1) are predicted to finish as the top seed in Region 8, a year after advancing to the DII state title game. Winton Woods junior Miyan Williams carried 15 times for 193 yards and two TDs on runs of 35 and 67 yards.
While the final regular-season Harbin computer ratings will not be officially released until Sunday, along with the state playoff pairings, Eitel and Shuck (whose playoff analysis is available here) both have the three GCL South teams making the postseason. According to Shuck in a story written earlier today by Mike Dyer on WCPO.com, here is the projected Region 4 finish: 1. Colerain, 10-0; 2. Mason, 8-2; 3. Elder, 6-4; 4. Milford, 8-2; 5. Fairfield, 7-3; 6. Moeller, 6-4; 7. Lakota East, 7-3; 8. St. Xavier, 5-5.
DI first-round games are set to kick off at 7 p.m. next Friday.