By Cincinnati Enquirer
La Salle went into Friday’s Division II Region 8 first-round playoff game with three consecutive state championships on its resume, but the top-seeded Lancers looked as jittery as a team making its playoff debut.
Freshman Shane McNally helped snap the Lancers back into focus.
McNally returned two interceptions for touchdowns, the second more than 100 yards from La Salle’s end zone, and top-seeded La Salle dominated the second half on its way to a 45-10 win over eighth-seeded Harrison at Lancer Stadium.
“My eyes got pretty big,” said McNally, whose return is believed the longest of an interception in program history. “When they call an out route and it hangs in the air pretty long, it’s like a dream come true. When you see an open field like that, you know you’re going to take it to the crib.”
“When you lose seniors like we did, you pick out certain players who have to step up,” first-year La Salle coach said Pat McLaughlin said. “Shane was one of those kids. He’s exceeded our expectations.”
Senior quarterback Griffin Merritt threw touchdown passes to senior tight end Josh Whyle and sophomore wide receiver-kicker Jake Seibert and sophomore running back Cam Porter added two touchdowns on the ground as La Salle (9-2) extended its post-season winning streak to 16 games.
McNally’s second touchdown, scored as the third quarter was ending, put the game into running-clock mode.
Senior quarterback Frank Young finished 19-of-38 for 263 yards and a touchdown pass to his brother, sophomore wide receiver C.J., for Harrison (8-3), but La Salle sacked him three times and picked off four passes.
The Lancers had to overcome 11 penalties for 105 yards, seven for 52 in the first half.
“We cleaned it up in the second half,” McLaughlin said.
La Salle plays the winner of Friday’s game between fourth-seeded Sidney and fifth-seeded Belmont in a regional semifinal next Friday at a site yet to be determined.
After a scoreless first quarter marred by five penalties, most of them of the procedure or offside variety, the teams erupted for 24 second-quarter points, starting with Merritt’s five-yard slant pattern to Whyle with 9:36 left in the half. La Salle had first-and-goal right on the 10-yard line but had to overcome three penalties, two for illegal procedure and one for holding that wiped out a touchdown, before scoring.
Harrison senior defensive lineman Austin Campton recovered a Lancers’ fumble at their 11-yard line, and the Wildcats converted on the first play with Young’s pass for the game-tying touchdown.
Jake Seibert converted an interception by senior defensive back Sam Hildebrand with a 37-yard field goal for a 10-7 La Salle lead with 3:15 left before halftime, and McNally followed by returning his third interception of the season 47 yards for a touchdown with :42 seconds in the half.
McNally has three pick-sixes this season. He returned one for 77 yards in La Salle’s 17-9 win on Oct. 13 at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
The teams combined for 12 penalties for 91 yards before halftime.
On the second play, after La Salle recovered Harrison’s onside kick to open the second half, Porter took a direct snap 47 yards up the right sideline, breaking one tackle on his way to a touchdown that left the Lancers in control. Merritt followed on the next possession with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Seibert.
“We have a lot of good players on offense,” McNally said. “We know they’re going to put the ball in the end zone. Our job is to get them the ball.”