By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
It will be a busy opening night in the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament for the Greater Catholic League South Division. Three GCL South teams kick off their postseason journeys in the Division I state playoffs tonight, with No. 3 seed Elder hosting No. 6 Moeller in a rematch of a game that went down to the wire back in week six, with Moeller staging a second-half comeback in a 24-21 victory at University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium on October 5 that clinched the GCL South championship outright for the Crusaders. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at The Pit in Price Hill.
St. Xavier (5-5), which defeated Louisville St. Xavier last Friday to clinch the eighth and final seed in DI, Region 4, gets another shot at unbeaten and top-ranked Colerain (10-0). The Bombers, who held a 6-0 halftime lead before inclement weather suspended the regular-season meeting between the two schools back in week two only to see the Cardinals score two third-quarter touchdowns and hold on for a 14-12 victory, is looking for similar magic to that of two years ago. That is when St. Xavier finished the regular season 5-5, earned a postseason berth and became the first team in Ohio football history to enter the playoffs with that record and win a state title.
Kickoff is 7 tonight at Colerain High School.
In the Elder-Moeller game, it will be a matchup of the GCL South Player of the Year in Panthers’ senior quarterback Michael Bittner against the GCL Coach of the Year in Moeller’s Doug Rosfeld – a Moeller alum who led the Crusaders to the first outright GCL title since 2013 in his first season as head coach. In the first meeting, it was Moeller (6-4) that rallied from a 21-11 deficit with 7:09 left in the third quarter to score the game’s final 13 points – including two field goals by junior kicker Kevin Thibodeaux, whose 28-yarder with 2:14 remaining snapped a 21-21 tie. Moeller came up with a final big defensive stand to perverse the victory.
That victory was Moeller’s sixth in its first seven game and gave Rosfeld’s team a perfect 3-0 record in the league. But the Crusaders ended the regular season with three consecutive losses to playoff teams – falling to Cleveland St. Ignatius, 32-7, in Parma; then losing late leads in losses to Lakewood St. Edward, 29-22, and Winton Woods, 21-17. Thibodeaux has been a weapon all season for Moeller, connecting on 13-of-17 field goals and converting all 19 extra-point attempts to be named GCL South Placekicker of the Year. Elder (6-4) closed the regular season with consecutive wins, including a 13-10 victory against La Salle last Friday.
Bittner has been a dual threat for Elder all season, earning his prestigious award after completing 158-of-270 passes for a league-best 2,235 yards, 15 TDs and 10 interceptions. He also rushed 165 times for 496 yards and 10 scores. His best game of the season came against St. Xavier, when the Panthers trailed, 14-10, at halftime and erupted for four TDs in the third quarter on their way to a 51-26 win at The Pit. Bittner completed 17-of-23 passes for 392 yards and three TDs, while also rushing 20 times for 97 yards and three more scores.
Speaking of St. Xavier, the Bombers’ defense will be tested against a Colerain offense that is averaging 36.3 points a game – despite many weeks when the Cardinals’ starters only played in the third half because of lopsided victories. Colerain is led by senior quarterback Deante Smith-Moore (who has accounted for 27 TDs), with running backs JJ Davis (9.9 yards per attempt) and Ivan Pace Jr. (15 rushing TDs) also threats on offense in Colerain’s triple-option attack. Since the win at St. Xavier in week two, Colerain has scored at least 42 points in all eight GMC games. The Cardinals have only allowed 55 points in 10 games, pitching five shutouts.
The Colerain-St. Xavier rivalry has turned into one of the best in Ohio the last five years. In fact, this will be the fifth straight year that the two schools have met twice in the season – every year in week two and then again in the state playoffs. Since the regular-season meeting in week two of 2014 through this year’s first game, Colerain has won five of the last nine meetings. The two teams split last season, with St. Xavier winning in overtime, 20-17, during the regular season and then Colerain taking the second meeting, 21-14, in the postseason.
This is the first time the two have met in the first round since 2013.