By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Senior quarterback Michael Bittner accounted for nearly 250 yards of total offense and two touchdowns, and the Elder defense played perhaps its best game of the season to lead the Panthers to a 35-0 victory against Greater Catholic League South Division regular-season champion Moeller in the opening round of the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament on another cold and rainy Friday night at The Pit in Price Hill.
St. Xavier, the third GCL South team to earn a postseason berth, was unable to recreate the magic of two years ago – when the Bombers entered the playoffs at 5-5 and became the first team in Ohio high school football history to go on and win a state championship after finishing with a .500 record. St. Xavier took an early 2-0 lead in its state playoff opener, only to see top-ranked and undefeated Colerain reel off 35 unanswered points in a 35-9 Cardinals’ win Friday at Colerain High School in what has become an annual postseason meeting between the two schools.
As a result, No. 1 Colerain (11-0) advances to meet Milford (9-2) – which rallied back from a 35-7 deficit with 11:20 remaining to record a thrilling 39-35 win against Fairfield, the school’s first-ever playoff win in football, in another Division I, Region 4 opening-round game at Milford. Elder (7-4) will now face Lakota East (8-3), which came back to post a 20-17 road win against Mason in a matchup of Greater Miami Conference teams. The regional semifinals are set for 7 p.m. next Friday, with the sites to be announced Sunday by the OHSAA.
Elder, which missed qualifying for the state playoffs last season by less than one computer point in the Harbin ratings systems used by the OHSAA, made the most of its return to the postseason – putting together what Elder coach Doug Ramsey called his team’s best all-around game of the season. The Panthers racked up nearly 370 yards total offense led by Bittner – who completed 12-of-15 passes for 96 yards and a score, while running 12 times for 134 yards and another TD. Elder ran for 271 yards, including 86 yards and a pair of TDs on 12 attempts by junior Matthew Luebbe.
Bittner was named GCL South Player of the Year earlier this week by league coaches.
The Panthers scored a TD on their opening drive, capped by a 6-yard run from Luebbe, and then added another TD on a 4-yard pass from Bittner to senior Kyle Trischler – the league’s leading receiver – to give Elder a 14-0 halftime lead. Moeller was unable to get much going offensively all night, finishing with 158 total yards and just two first downs in the first half. Moeller’s best chance for a score came when defensive back Carrington Valentine returned an interception 90 yards for an apparent score, but the Crusaders were flagged for pass interference on the play.
The loss was the fourth straight for Moeller (6-5), which rallied to defeat Elder, 24-21, on October 5 at University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium – a victory that clinched the GCL South title outright for the Crusaders, their first such crown since 2013. After that game, Moeller stood 6-1 under alum and first-year coach Doug Rosfeld – who was named the GCL South Coach of the Year earlier this week. Moeller then suffered consecutive losses to three state playoff teams in Cleveland St. Ignatius (7-3), Lakewood St. Edward (7-3) and Winton Woods (10-1) to close the regular season.
St. Xavier was looking to pick up where it left off last Friday, posting a 34-7 win over a talented Louisville St. Xavier team at home to earn a postseason berth for the 10th straight year, a longer streak than any other local DI team. But the Bombers, who led Colerain, 6-0, at halftime before falling 14-12 to the Cardinals back in week two, were unable to slow a Colerain offense that came into the game averaging 36.3 points. St. Xavier actually held an early 2-0 lead after tackling the Cardinals’ senior back Syncere Jones in the end zone for a safety on Colerain’s first offensive play from scrimmage.
From there, though, Colerain senior quarterback Deante Smith-Moore and senior back Ivan Pace Jr. took over running the football. Moore finished with a game-high 220 yards and two TDs on 15 carries, one score coming on an 80-yard run in the third quarter to put Colerain up, 35-2. Pace ran for 58 yards and two scores, while also recording 12 tackles on defense. St. Xavier’s offense was led by senior back Chris Payne, a first-team All-GCL South selection, who finished his high school career with 34 carries for 136 yards rushing and his team’s lone TD, a 30-yard reception from junior quarterback Matthew Rueve.
Payne – like the Bombers – finished strong, rushing for 100-plus yards in three of the last five games – against La Salle, Cleveland St. Ignatius and Colerain. He had 97 yards rushing in the other two and scored nine TDs in the five games, seven rushing and two receiving. He finished second in the GCL South in rushing yards during the regular season, with 590. The Bombers started the season at 2-4, but then rallied to win three of the last four regular-season games to finish 5-5 and earn their customary spot in the state playoffs. Colerain and St. Xavier have now met 10 times the last five seasons, with Colerain holding a 6-4 edge in that span – including a sweep this season.
Colerain is now 20-0 in first-round playoff games, best in the state.