By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Junior Matthew Luebbe accounted for 258 yards total offense and three touchdowns and, for the second straight week, the Elder defense did not allow any points to help the Panthers earn their fourth straight victory – this time a 34-6 win against Lakota East on a cold Friday night at Mason High School’s Dwire Field at Atrium Stadium in the Division 1, Region 4 semifinals of the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament.
The victory earns Elder (8-4), the region’s No. 3 seed, a shot at undefeated and No. 1 Colerain in the regional final at 7 p.m. Friday at a site to be announced this weekend by the OHSAA. Colerain (12-0) advanced with a 48-14 win against Milford at St. Xavier Stadium’s Ballaban Field in Friday’s other regional semifinal.
Luebbe, who has been used as a versatile offensive weapon by Elder coach Doug Ramsey all season, replaced senior Mitchel Bittner – the Greater Catholic League South Division I Player of the Year – after Bittner suffered a leg injury while being tackled attempting his lone pass of the game early in the first quarter. Bittner did not return, but Luebbe took the reins of the Panthers’ offense and completed 9-of-13 passes for 98 yards and a TD, while also rushing 18 times for a game-high 160 yards and two more scores.
Lubbe, who also started the scoring with a 6-yard TD run last week in Elder’s opening-round, 35-0 win against GCL South regular-season champion Moeller at The Pit, did it again last night – scoring on a 6-yard run with 6:15 remaining in the first quarter. Luebbe hooked up with senior receiver Kyle Trischler on a 13-yard scoring pass with just 25 seconds left in the first half to give Elder a 21-0 lead at intermission. East scored its lone TD 17 seconds into the third quarter in a 35-yard interception return by Michael Howard to cut the deficit to 21-6, but Luebbe added a 2-yard run with 6:12 left in the quarter to make it 28-6. Luebbe ran for 84 yards and two scores against Moeller.
The Elder defense finished off the scoring when senior Zach Bischolf returned an interception 70 yards for a TD in the first minute of the final quarter. Elder, which limited Moeller to just seven first downs and 158 total yards a week earlier, held East’s powerful triple-option attack to 10 first downs and 170 total yards, forcing four turnovers. The Thunderhawks were 2-of-9 on third down, 1-of-4 on fourth, and completed just 1-of-13 passes for 40 yards. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for East (8-4).
Stopping Colerain, however, won’t be easy. The Cardinals have been held below 42 points only once since week two, that coming in a 35-9 win against St. Xavier in last week’s opening round. Colerain is averaging 37.2 points a game behind senior quarterback Deante Smith-Moore (1,600-plus total yards and 27 TDs) and backs Ivan Pace Jr. (898 yards rushing, 15 TDs) and JJ Davis (9.9 yards per attempt). Scary statistics when you factor in that many of the Cardinals’ starters did not play much in the second half of lopsided games during the regular season, and that many of the victories featured a running clock at times in the second half.
The two teams last played in the regional final three years ago, a 41-11 Colerain victory behind a powerful rushing attack that produced 509 yards on the ground. Fullback Monalo Caldwell carried 25 times for 222 yards and three TDs, while quarterback Deshaunte Jones (now playing at Iowa State University) ran 15 times for 195 yards and two scores. The Cardinals lost to eventual state runner-up Huber Heights Wayne, 28-21, the following week in the state semifinals.
Colerain is trying to reach the state semis for the second straight year. The Cardinals made it there last year, too, before falling to eventual state champion Pickerington Central, 41-28. Elder won back-to-back regional championships in 2008 and 2009. In ’08, the Panthers defeated Colerain, 27-20, in overtime and then knocked off Pickerington Central in the semis to advance to the state final – losing to Cleveland St. Ignatius, 28-20. Elder made the state semis a year later in ’09, beating Anderson, 28-21, in the Region 4 final.
· Elder lost to Hilliard Davidson, 24-20, the following week. Davidson went on to the win state title that year, knocking off Cleveland Glenville, 16-15, in the final. Elder and Colerain combined to win three straight state titles from 2003 to 2004, with Elder capturing consecutive big-school crowns in 2002 and 2003 and Colerain winning its lone title in 2004.