By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Elder entered the Division I, Region 4 final of the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament coming off its best two all-around performances of the season – defeating Moeller and Lakota East by a combined score of 69-6 in the first two rounds while not allowing a defensive touchdown. But Friday’s opponent at Mason High School’s Dwire Field at Atrium Stadium was No. 1 seed and top-ranked Colerain, a team that had been held below 42 points only once since week two of the regular season and featured an offense averaging nearly 40 points per game.
And No. 3 seed Elder, winner of four straight games, was able to force a turnover early in the third quarter and move to inside the Cardinals’ 10 to potentially cut the deficit to 14-7. But, in the end, Elder turned the ball over on downs and the Colerain vaunted triple-option attack and stingy defense proved to be too much as the Cardinals used big plays, two TDs each from seniors Deante Smith-Moore and Ivan Pace Jr., and a 21-point fourth quarter to remain unbeaten and earn their second consecutive trip to the state semifinals with a 42-0 victory over Elder. Colerain also defeated Elder, 41-11, in their last meeting, in the 2015 regional championship.
In the process, Colerain (13-0) earns another shot at defending state champion Pickerington Central (11-2), which defeated the Cardinals, 41-28, in the regional final last season. The state semifinal is 7 p.m. next Friday, November 23 at a site to be determined. Pickerington Central, which beat Hilliard Davidson, 20-13, in the Region 3 final last night at Gahanna, went on to defeat Mentor, 56-28, in Canton last year to earn its first state football title.
Lakewood St. Edward and Olentangy Liberty also won their respective regions Friday and will meet in the other state semifinal November 23. The OHSAA will announce sites for both games this weekend.
Elder (8-5) managed to slow Colerain somewhat in the first half, allowing a 37-yard TD run by Pace with 5:46 left in the first quarter, and then Moore ran it in from 1-yard out with 13 seconds left to give Colerain a 14-0 lead at halftime. But Elder, playing without senior quarterback Michael Bittner who was sidelined after leaving last week’s game against Lakota East on the first series after suffering a leg injury, was unable to sustain a consistent rushing attack against Colerain’s fast and talented defense. The Panthers rushed 20 times for 48 yards, led by sophomore Cooper Johnson, who rushed seven times for 40 yards.
Bittner was the GCL South Player of the Year this season.
But Elder had a chance to cut the deficit in half after a Colerain turnover in the third quarter, before passes on third and fourth downs from inside the Colerain 10 went incomplete. Junior quarterback Matthew Luebbe completed 13-of-24 passes for 107 yards and one interception. Panthers’ all-time leading receiver and the GCL South leader Kyle Trischler had two catches for 30 yards. Elder finished with 13 first downs, 155 total yards and was held to just 2-of-11 third-down conversions while and missing its two fourth-down attempts.
Colerain, meanwhile, amassed 471 yards total offense – including 41 rushing attempts for 360 yards, an average of 8.8 per rush, and five TDs. Pace led the way, with 16 carries for 200 yards and TD runs of 37 and 93 yards. Senior back JJ Davis, who entered the game averaging nearly 10 yards a rush, ran five times for 85 yards, including a 65-yard TD dash in the fourth quarter. And Moore, the Cardinals’ senior quarterback, had two rushing TDs but also completed all five of his passes for 111 yards and one score.
Colerain is making its third appearance in the state semifinals the last four years. The Cardinals lost to state runner-up Huber Heights Wayne, 28-21, in the state semifinals back in 2015 after knocking off Elder in the regional final. Under coach Tom Bolden, Colerain’s combined record is 47-6 the last four seasons, having posted a perfect 30-0mark during that span to win all four Greater Miami Conference championships. The Cardinals have won or shared the GCM title every year since 1999.
It was another strong season for Elder, which finished with its record against a brutal schedule. Three of the Panthers’ losses were to teams in the state semifinals – Colerain and Lakewood St. Edward, which defeated Elder, 36-30, after the Panthers led 28-14 at halftime; and Winton Woods, which advanced to the DII state semifinals by knocking off Anderson last night and was the divisional state-runner-up last season. The other two losses were in the GCL South, to league champion Moeller, 24-21, and to St. Xavier, 51-26, in a game that Elder led 14-10 at halftime.
Moeller and St. Xavier both qualified for the postseason.