By Adam Baum, email@example.com
As they've been known to do, La Salle and Elder needed all the time on the clock Friday night to decide a winner as the Lancers kept visiting Elder out of the end zone thanks to an interception on the goal line by Luke Thiemann as time expired on a 13-7 La Salle win that featured rain from start to finish.
Trailing 13-7 early in the fourth quarter, Elder had three scoring chances deep in La Salle territory and the Panthers couldn't make a play while their counterpart came up with a pair of interceptions and a turnover on downs to keep Elder off the board in the second half.
It looked like Elder might win a wild one when senior Jack Mazza scored on a 10-yard touchdown run with 51 seconds left in the game until a holding call moved the Panthers back to the La Salle 20.
With 37 seconds left on third-and-goal, La Salle was called for a late hit that injured Elder junior quarterback Michael Bittner and gave the Panthers a fresh set of downs at La Salle's 10-yard line with senior Danny Nieman under center. On fourth-and-goal, Thiemann intercepted Nieman to wrap it up with a big red bow.
"Every week's a new week," said La Salle coach Pat McLaughlin. "We beat Elder this week and I don't know who we're gonna have next week but we'll be ready to go.
"I think it helps us build confidence. 8-2 (record). I believe we're gonna have played eight or nine playoff teams. Our kids are battle tested. We just gotta stay healthy. We're the No. 1 seed. We're still the team to beat but you gotta come out and prove it every night. For our kids to come out and get the No. 1 seed again it's a testament to our kids, our coaches, our administration. It's a team effort all the way."
There were four pivotal penalties called in the game's final 50 seconds. Two against each side.
Elder coach Doug Ramsey said, "They made plays, we didn't. We didn't make plays. We drop a punt snap, we snap one low, we throw interceptions ... you gotta make plays if you're gonna beat good teams.
"I don't care if it's raining, it doesn't matter."
The rain that accompanied Friday's festivities brought with it ball security issues that proved to have a major impact on the outcome.
A 33-yard field goal by La Salle's Jake Seibert on the Lancers' opening possession of the game was set up because Elder punter Luke Masminster had to drop to a knee to handle the snap.
Propelled by two big penalties against the Lancers, Elder took its only lead of the game seconds into the second quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run by Mazza, who finished with 102 yards on 26 carries.
In the final three minutes of the first half, Elder's T.J. Kearns intercepted La Salle's Griffin Merritt as he attempted to find Josh Whyle in the end zone. Barely a minute later, La Salle's Dan Hinton returned the favor with an interception of his own.
What proved to be a monumental play came with four seconds left in the first half when La Salle sophomore running back Cam Porter, who totaled 84 yards on 17 attempts, busted a 14-yard touchdown run around the right side to give the Lancers a 10-7 halftime lead.
La Salle's already locked up a home game to open up the Division II playoffs next week, while Elder has to wait and see what happens on Saturday.
According to playoff projection analyst Joe Eitel, the top-six positions in Division I, Region 4 have already been claimed by St. Xavier, Colerain, Mason, Sycamore, Milford, and West Clermont. The three teams still in play for the two remaining spots are Elder, Fairfield and Moeller. The Crusaders lost 35-14 to Winton Woods to finish the regular season, but depending on the result of Saturday's Cleveland St. Ignatius-Lakewood St. Edward game, the final pairings still remain up in the air.
Ramsey said the wait-and-see spot is not a comfortable place to be.
"But we put ourselves in that position. We should have won tonight that's all there is to it," he said.
Check back with Cincinnati.com on Sunday afternoon for the official playoff announcement from the OHSAA.