By Adam Baum, email@example.com
In 98 meetings all-time, Elder and St. Xavier have become fairly familiar with one another on the football field.
Friday night at St. Xavier's Ballaban Field, the two went down to the wire, adding another brutal chapter in a rivalry that dates back to 1923 when they met for the first time.
St. Xavier stopped Elder at the 2-yard line on fourth down with under a minute left in the game to hang on, 14-6, and remain unbeaten (6-0).
It's Elder's third straight loss, all against teams ranked top-3 in the Division I state poll (No. 3 St. Edward, No. 1 St. Ignatius, No. 2 St. Xavier).
"That's what GCL football's all about," said St. Xavier head coach Steve Specht. "It doesn't matter what the records are, it doesn't matter what happened last year, it doesn't matter. It's gonna be hard fought. It's gonna be a battle. That's exactly what tonight was.
"There's no quit in those kids. Elder's played a grueling schedule. You play Ed's, Ignatius, and then go into the GCL South, that's brutal. But their kids fight. You saw how much improvement they made from Ed's to Ignatius and then you watched them fight tonight. They're tough, hard-nosed kids that leave everything on the line. My hat's off to them. They played their hearts out tonight and our kids did, too."
Down 14-6 with 2:07 left to play, Elder had a chance with great field position, starting at St. X's 43-yard line. Junior quarterback Michael Bittner connected with junior Kyle Trischler for 27 yards and then hit senior Danny Faillace for 11 more to set the Panthers up with first-and-goal at the 5 with just over a minute left.
On third down, St. Xavier linebacker Thomas Kiessling sacked Bittner for a 10-yard loss and Elder took its final timeout.
On fourth down, Bittner found Trischler across the middle but the Bombers bundled him up at the 2-yard line with 40 seconds left to seal it as the boys in blue went bonkers.
"We did (play well enough to win)," said Elder head coach Doug Ramsey. "Both sides of the ball we played hard. We're good.
"We're a good football team but we kill ourselves with a dumb penalty here or a missed assignment there. But we're close and that's what I told them, we've gotta get over that hump. We've gotta stop killing ourselves. We throw a touchdown pass and have an illegal man downfield. Just things here and there. We gotta get turned around and make sure we get into the playoffs cause I think we can scare the crap out of a lot of people."
The first series of the game, St. Xavier marched right down the field on an 11-play, 63-yard drive, capped by a one-handed 4-yard touchdown grab by Cameron Specht from Chase Wolf.
"Definitely felt like a playoff (game)," said Cameron, who finished with seven catches for 45 yards and both the Bombers' touchdowns. "Definitely a great GCL South game. Elder played super hard. We tried to play as hard as we can. We knew it was gonna be a dogfight. We came in all week, we knew they were gonna sustain super long drives. We knew they were gonna eat up a bunch of clock so we knew when we got the ball we had to make the most of it."
After the opening drive, Elder's defense didn't allow a first down the rest of the first half.
On Elder's second drive of the game, the Panthers pieced together a 17-play, 79-yard drive that resulted in a 21-yard field goal by Sam Harmeyer to make it 7-3.
Later in the second quarter, Elder senior quarterback Danny Nieman, who started the game 7-of-10 for 46 yards to go with two scrambles for 27 yards, went down with a leg injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the night.
Ramsey said, "Doctors were a little cautious with Danny. Probably could have come back if need be but I didn't want to take any chances with it being a leg situation or get him hurt worse cause he couldn't escape.
"We knew that (Bittner could play). Michael did a good job and I think this experience will really benefit him down the road."
In his absence, Bittner, who has played sporadically this season and saw time last season, entered the game with confidence, leading an 11-play, 59-yard drive that produced a 32-yard field goal by Harmeyer to make it 7-6 seconds before the break.
In the third quarter, St. Xavier utilized its best drive of the second half when Wolf hit Specht, who gave everything he had in a battle at the goal line, for an 8-yard touchdown and a 14-6 lead with the crowd behind them.
Wolf went 17-for-29 for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Bittner finished 13-of-28 for 167 yards.
The Panthers responded on their ensuing drive, marching 54 yards on seven plays, but St. Xavier defensive back Johnny Marrocco intercepted Bittner in the end zone.
"When it gets down to it, 'Do you execute?'" said Specht. "We're gonna have to watch film but we're gonna have to ask ourselves did we execute or did they just take us out of what we wanted to do by how hard they were playing. I won't know until I watch the film but, boy, you saw two teams tonight just going after one another and playing their hearts out. There was a lot of penalties (15 between both teams), we've gotta clean that up, watch the film and get better.
"But I think what you saw tonight was a classic GCL South matchup; it was just an unbelievable game."
Next Friday, St. Xavier hosts La Salle (5-1, 1-0) and if the Bombers win they'll clinch the outright conference title, while Elder welcomes Moeller.