By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
The first full night of games in the Greater Catholic League South Division certainly did not disappoint fans in terms of excitement. In dramatic fashion, Moeller’s Chrystopher Watkins scored on a 1-yard run on fourth down on the first possession of overtime, and then teammate BJ Hendrix intercepted a pass in the end zone to preserve the Crusaders’ 21-14 victory over La Salle Friday at La Salle’s Lancer Stadium – Moeller first win against La Salle in five years.
Meanwhile, over at The Pit in Price Hill, what looked like a game also destined to come down to the final minutes with St. Xavier taking a 14-10 lead at halftime turned into an offensive explosion by Elder – which erupted for four touchdowns in the third quarter and six in the second half to post a 51-26 win against St. Xavier in the Panthers’ GCL South opener.
Elder senior quarterback Michael Bittner had a night to remember, accounting for almost 500 yards of total offense and six TDs. In the process, Bittner heled snap a two-game losing streak for Elder, and also was the Panthers’ first win at home against St. Xavier in the last five meetings. Elder had scored only one offensive TDs in its last six quarters entering Friday night, but that changed in the second half against St. Xavier.
It sets up a huge game between Elder (4-2, 1-0 GCL South) and Moeller (5-1, 2-0) next Friday at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m. A Moeller win would give the Crusaders their first outright GCL South championship since its 2013 state championship season. If Elder wins, the Panthers would then have a chance to win their first outright league title since 2008, if they can post a win against La Salle the final week of the regular season at The Pit. Elder advanced to the Division I state final that year, losing to Cleveland St. Ignatius, 28-20.
Moeller 21, La Salle 14 (OT)
Watkins’ 1-yard score in OT came just a few minutes after he had been stopped on fourth down by Lancers’ senior linebacker Garrett Bledsoe at the La Salle 5. As a result, the game went into OT. Moeller got the ball first and Watkins, who finished with 100 yards rushing, managed to cross the goal line from 1-yard out. The extra point was good by junior kicker Kevin Thibodeaux, giving Moeller a 7-point lead. La Salle (4-2, 0-1) then got its chance, but Hendrix stepped in front of receiver Kevin Swift for an interception and the win. Hendrix helped preserve Moeller’s 19-14 win at St. Xavier last week by returning an interception 45 yards for a score with Moeller leading 13-7 in the fourth quarter.
Junior quarterback MJ Horton accounted for both La Salle TDs against Moeller, connecting with Devante Smith on a 3-yard pass midway through the first quarter to give La Salle a 7-0 lead. Moeller tied the score before the end of the quarter on a 22-yard run by sophomore Thomas Rotello, set up by a lengthy pass from Mitch McKenzie to RJ Khayo. Moeller took a 14-7 halftime lead on a 1-yard run by McKenzie, which is where the score remained until Horton’s 5-yard run and extra point by Jake Seibert tied it, 14-14, in the fourth quarter.
Elder 51, St. Xavier 26
Trailing 14-10 at halftime, Elder came alive offensively in the third quarter to score 20 unanswered points and wind up with four TDs in the quarter to take a 37-20 lead. The Panthers would score two more times in the final quarter – giving them six TDs in the second half – to pull away down the stretch. Senior quarterback Michael Bittner, who entered the game leading the GCL South in passing yards with 996, completed 17-of-23 passes for 392 yards, three scores and one interception, while also rushing 20 times for 97 yards and three more scores.
Bittner, who had four passing TDs two weeks ago in a 36-30 loss to Lakewood St. Edward, hooked up with Matthew Luebbe on a 78-yard scoring strike just 20 seconds into the third quarter to give Elder at 17-14. Later in the period, he connected with Kyle Trischler for a 71-yard TD to increase Elder’s lead to 37-20. Trischler, who leads the league in receiving yards with 517, caught six passes for 117 yards and a score – his fourth game this season with 90 or more receiving yards. Junior tight end Joe Royer hauled in four passes for 88 yards and one score, an 18-yarder from Bittner that gave Elder a 24-14 advantage with 7:35 left in the third.
Elder finished with 22 first downs and 569 total yards against a solid St. Xavier defense that had limited Indianapolis Cathedral and Moeller to just 20 and 17 points, respectively, the previous two games – with Cathedral only scoring 14 in regulation. Elder was 4-of-8 on third down, and converted its lone chance on fourth down. St. Xavier (2-4, 0-2), which has lost three straight and four of five, was led offensively by junior quarterback Wyatt Hudepohl, who completed 23-of-39 passes for 244 yards, three TDs and three interceptions. Senior Jared Kreimer was the Bombers’ leading receiver, with eight catches for 66 yards and one TD.
Both defenses did have big plays in the game. It was an interception and subsequent 62-yard return for a TD in the final minute of the first half by St. Xavier senior B.J. Ferguson that gave the Bombers a 14-10 lead at intermission. And, as St. Xavier appeared ready to cut into the deficit early in the fourth quarter with a drive inside the 20-yard line, Elder senior linebacker Ronnie Wainscott intercepted a pass and returned it 98 yards to the St. Xavier 1. From there, Bittner scored on a sneak to give Elder an insurmountable 44-20 advantage early in the fourth quarter.