By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
The stakes for the Moeller football team and first-year Crusaders’ head coach Doug Rossfeld were simple. Defeat Elder and win the coveted Greater Catholic League South Division championship outright for the first time since 2013. That’s exactly what Moeller managed to do, rallying from a 21-11 deficit midway through the third quarter to tie the game, 21-21, with 8:34 remaining , then get a 28-yard field goal from junior kicker Kevin Thibodeaux – his third of the night – with 2:14 left, and have its defense come up with a stop of a potential game-tying or winning Elder drive inside the final minute to record a 24-21 victory last Friday at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium.
The win completed a three-week run though the GCL South for Moeller (6-1, 3-0 GCL South), which won its fourth straight. Moeller last won the league title outright five years ago, when it finished 14-1 overall and capped the season by winning its second straight Ohio Division I state crown. The Crusaders beat St. Xavier, 19-14, two weeks earlier, and then knocked off La Salle a week ago Friday, 21-14, in overtime. Both of those wins were on the road. Elder (4-3, 1-1) was hoping to follow its 51-26 win in the Panthers’ league opener against St. Xavier a week earlier with a win over Moeller and, in the process, set up an opportunity to win the GCL South outright with a win at home against La Salle the final week of the regular season, on Friday, October 26.
In the other GCL South game Friday, St. Xavier’s offense came alive to rack up 410 total yards and two touchdowns in each of the first three quarters en route to a 42-7 victory over La Salle at Lancer Stadium. Junior quarterback Wyatt Hudepohl completed 9-of-12 passes for 193 yards and three TDS, while senior back Chris Payne carried 13 times for 144 yards, his first 100-yard plus game of the season, to help St. Xavier (3-4, 1-1) end a three-game losing streak. La Salle (4-3, 0-2) dropped its second straight after a four-game winning streak. St. Xavier converted 4-of-8 third downs and its only fourth-down attempt. The Bombers played mistake-free football, while forcing three La Salle turnovers.
For two-and-a-half quarters at Nippert, with the game also part of the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown, it appeared as though Elder was headed to another impressive victory. But Moeller showed resolve, narrowing the margin to seven points, 21-14, on a 43-yard field goal by Thibodeaux. He also kicked a 34-yarder in the first quarter to give the Crusaders their lone lead until his final kick. Thibodeaux was a perfect 3-of-3 in the game an d has connected on 10-of-13 this season. Sophomore back TJ Rotello scored on a 1-yard run with just over five minutes left in the game and Thibodeaux’s extra point made it 21-21. Rotello’s short run was set up by a 37-yard pass from Mitch McKenzie to RJ Khayo that put the ball at the Elder 1.
That is where the score remained until Moeller worked its way into Elder territory late, only to have the drive stall and Rossfeld call on Thibodeaux once more, this time on a 28-yarder to give Moeller the lead, 24-21. Elder had one final chance, led by senior quarterback Michael Bittner – who finished 20-of-31 passing for 236 yards and one TD, a 10-yarder to the GCL South leading receiver Kyle Trischler, who finished with 10 catches for 153 yards. The Panthers managed to move the ball to the Moeller 35, but were stopped on fourth-and-5 when Bittner was chased and eventually sacked by Moeller’s defense. The Crusaders then ran out the clock to emerge with the league title.
McKenzie completed 7-of-11 passes for 104 yards, with six of the receptions going to Khayo – who finished with 86 yards receiving. He also returned four punts, with a long of 23 yards and was named the Mercy Health Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine Most Valuable Player in the Showdown game. The win moves Moeller up to second in this week’s Harbin Division I, Region 4 computer ratings – trailing only undefeated Colerain. Elder is fifth, while St. Xavier is No. 12 in the latest ratings released Tuesday by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. The top eight teams in each region quality for the state playoffs.
La Salle is ninth in Division II, Region 8.
All four teams take a break from the GCL South this weekend. Elder hosts a talented Winton Woods (6-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at The Pit in Price Hill. La Salle welcomes the International School of Broward, Fla. to Lancer Stadium, while St. Xavier hosts Clarkson Football North from Ontario, Canada. Both games kick off at 7 Friday evening. Moeller doesn’t play until Saturday, when the Crusaders travel to Northeast Ohio to face Cleveland St. Ignatius (4-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Byers Field in Cleveland. St. Ignatius defeated Elder, 17-7, in NE Ohio in week five. St. Ignatius lost to Moeller, 41-20, last season at Otterbein University in Westerville.