Posted on 11/19/2017 at 1:57 p.m.

GCL South FB Teams Lose Tough Games In Regional Finals

The state championships title defense ended Friday night for Greater Catholic League South Division members La Salle and St. Xavier as both schools were defeated in their respective regional finals in a pair of games almost certain to be declared instant classics in the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament.  Three-time defending Division II state champion La Salle saw its 17-game postseason winning streak end on the final play of the game in a 16-14 loss to Winton Woods in the Region 8 final, while defending DI state champ St. Xavier was unable to overcome rival Colerain in a 21-14 loss in the Region 4 title game. 

La Salle (10-3), the No. 1 seed in its region and winner of five straight, was vying to avenge one of its two losses this season when it faced No. 2 Winton Woods (12-1) at Withrow High School’s Angus King stadium.  And, much like in the regular-season meeting between the two powers – an 18-15, come-from-behind win by Winton Woods at La Salle in week five – it appeared that the Lancers might keep its state playoff streak alive when senior quarterback Griffin Merritt connected with junior receiver Jake Seibert on a 25-yard touchdown pass, followed by a Seibert extra point to give La Salle its first lead of the game, 14-13, with 2:04 remaining.

But Winton Woods, which had scored 61 and 52 points, receptively, in its opening playoff wins against Chillicothe and Anderson, responded like it did in the first meeting when La Salle carried a 7-5 lead into the fourth quarter before the Warriors scored consecutive TDs.  This time, it wasn’t a TD but instead a field goal – a 28-yarder by Yeri Velasquez, his third of the game (also good from 23 and 35 yards) – with one second remaining that gave Winton Woods the win and kept the Warriors’ state title hopes alive.

Led by senior quarterback Kenny Mayberry, the Warriors mounted a game-winning drive that included a Mayberry run for a first down on fourth-and-three from midfield.  Even after having had a TD called back because of a penalty, Mayberry was still able to engineer a drive to put Winton Woods in position for the game-winning field goal.    Mayberry accounted for more than 225 yards of total offense to lead Winton Woods, passing for 163 yards and running for 64 more on  just 15 carries, including a 20-yard run to give the Warriors a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

Ironically, Massillon Washington is Winton Woods’ opponent at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Columbus St. Francis Desales Alumni Stadium.  Washington, which defeated New Albany, 24-6, in its semifinal Friday to advance, is led by former La Salle coach Nate Moore – who began the string of three straight state titles by guiding the Lancers to the 2014 state championship.  La Salle then won its next two crowns under Jim Hilvert, who left after last season to become head coach at Baldwin Wallace University.  First-year Lancers coach Pat McLaughlin led his team to a fourth straight 10-win plus season and a regional final appearance despite graduating a number of key players.  La Salle is 50-8 the last four seasons, including 17-1 in the playoffs.

Like its GCL South colleague La Salle, St. Xavier was attempting to defend a state title as the Bombers won the DI crown last year by putting together an improbable run through a gauntlet of difficult opponents – including Colerain – to become the first program in OHSAA history at any level to win a state title after finishing 6-5 in the regular season.  To move on this time, too, the Bombers would again have to get past Colerain – a team they had played earlier this season, a 20-17, come-from-behind win in OT at Colerain, and also last season in the regional semis – a 29-23 win after trailing by double digits.

On Friday, at a packed Mason High School’s Atrium Stadium, Colerain again built an advantage – holding a 14-0 lead in the second quarter before St. Xavier scored to make it 14-6.  The Bombers tied the game in the third quarter on consecutive pass plays from senior Chase Wolf to senior Andrew Wittrock, tie first covering 66 yards to set up a 6-yard TD strike.  St. Xavier then converted the two-point conversion on a Wolf to Bobby Jefferson II pass to make it 14-14.

But Colerain, which rushed for 385 yards on 54 carries – a 7.1-yard average – against a stingy St. Xavier defense, responded with a seven-play, 80-yard that was capped by a 4-yard TD run from junior Syncere Jones to give the Cardinals a 21-14 advantage that they made stand up thanks to a defense that limited St. Xavier to 183 total yards.  The Bombers rushed 17 times for 15 yards, while Wolf did complete 15-of-22 passes for 168 yards and two TDs.  Wolf, a University of Wisconsin recruit and the GCL South Player of the Year, finished his senior season by completing 64.2 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,948 yards with 25 TDs and just three interceptions.

The win moves Colerain (11-2), winner of 11 straight games since falling to St. Xavier in week two, into the state semifinals where it will meet Pickerington Central at 7:30 Friday night at Springfield Evans Stadium.  Pickerington Central defeated district rival Pickerington North, 31-14, in its semifinal to advance.  Colerain is vying to win its second state football crown since winning its first in dominating fashion back in 2004.  One thing is for sure though.  The Colerain-St. Xavier series might be the best in Ohio high school football in recent years when you consider the numbers.

The two programs have played twice each of the last four seasons, with three of the last four and four of six going into OT.  While Friday’s game did not need an extra period, it had all the makings of two heavyweights playing each other with huge stakes on the line.  Led by 218 yards on 12 carries from junior  J.J. Davis, including a 91-yard TD run to give Colerain a 14-0 lead, and a defense led by junior Ivan Pace Jr. and senior Dan Bolden, the Cardinals held down St. Xavier’s potent offense – which had scored 40 and 37 points, respectively, in first two playoff wins against Fairfield and Sycamore.  

It still was an outstanding season for St. Xavier (11-2), which won the coveted GCL South championship outright with a perfect 3-0 league mark.  The Bombers’ lone defeat before Friday was a 28-14 loss on the road to Cleveland St. Ignatius in a rematch of last year’s state final, won by St. Xavier, 27-20, in double OT.  Coach Steve Specht’s team began and ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in The Enquirer’s Division I area coaches’ poll, spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Di state rankings and also wound up the top seed in the Region 4 Harbin computer ratings.

Posted on 11/16/2017 at 10:53 a.m.

GCL South Members Set To Defend Respective Regional Titles

Greater Catholic League South Division members La Salle and St. Xavier defend their respective regional championships Friday night as both teams attempt to take the next step toward successful state football title defenses too when the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Tournament continues at neural sites.  St. Xavier will face its annual postseason opponent Colerain in the Division I, Region 4 final at Mason High School’s Atrium Stadium, while La Salle looks to avenge one of its two losses this season when it meets Winton Woods in the Division II, Region 8 final at Withrow’s Angus King Stadium.  Kickoffs are 7:30 p.m.

Both games match the top two seeds in each region.

No. 1 St. Xavier (11-1), vying for its eighth straight postseason victory, also is looking to sweep what has become an annual series with No. 2 Colerain (10-2).  The Cardinals are riding a 10-game winning streak since opening the season with consecutive losses to GCL South opponents – 7-3 at La Salle in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown and then a 20-17 overtime setback to St. Xavier at Colerain, a game the Cardinals led 14-0 midway through the fourth quarter before the Bombers rallied behind senior quarterback Chase Wolf – the GCL South Player of the Year.

Colerain and St. Xavier have played each other twice the last three years, once in the regular season and again in the state playoffs.  The last three games and four of the last five meetings have been decided in OT, with St. Xavier winning the last two times – including a come-from-behind, 29-23 OT victory in last year’s regional semifinals that helped propel the Bombers to five consecutive postseason wins to become the first school in OHSAA history at any level to finish the regular season at 5-5 and go on to win a state championship.  St. Xavier beat Cleveland St. Ignatius, 27-20, in two OTs in the state final.

This game figures to be one of the best around the state, as both teams are playing their best football.  St. Xavier’s only setback this season is to St. Ignatius, 28-14, on the road in week nine.  The outright GCL South champions have won three straight since, including postseason wins over Fairfield (40-12) and Sycamore (37-7) in impressive fashion – highlighted by its passing and rushing attacks, respectively, and a defense that has been sound all season.  Against Fairfield, Wolf threw for a career-best 374 yards and tossed four TD passes, before the Bombers used a rushing attack that carried 30 times for 214 yards and four scores against Sycamore.

St. Xavier’s defense allowed just 20 first downs and 490 total yards in the last two games.  The Bombers trailed in both games, 6-2 against Fairfield and 7-0 versus Sycamore in the first quarters, but allowed only six points in the final three quarters of both playoff games.  St. Xavier has allowed only two teams to score more than 14 points this season – St. Ignatius (28) in its only loss and Colerain (17) in its OT victory.  Six of the Bombers’ 12 opponents have been held to single digits.  Seniors Bobby Jefferson II and Blake Bacevich, a University of Cincinnati commit, rank among the league leaders in sacks, with seven and five, respectively. 

It won’t be easy stopping the potent Colerain triple option, which is turning in eye-popping numbers each week.  In its two playoff wins, Colerain has beaten Moeller, 45-0, and then Mason, 49-21 – combining to rush for 831 yards and nine TDs in the two games.  In its win over Mason last Friday, the Cardinals gained 476 yards on the ground and scored six rushing TDs.  This came against a Mason defense that had recorded four straight shutouts, five in its last six games and six this season.  Cardinals’ junior fullback Ivan Pace Jr. rushed 22 times for 232 yards and four scores, while senior quarterback Gunnar Leyendecker carried 12 times for 162 yards and one TD.

Since its week two loss to St. Xavier, Colerain has scored 38 or more points in 10 straight games.

Like Colerain-St. Xavier, the La Salle-Winton Woods matchup also figures to be one of the state’s best at any level.   No. 1 La Salle (10-2), the three-time defending DII state champ, puts a 17-game playoff winning streak on the line against No. 2 Winton Woods (11-1) – a team believed by many to be the most talented in its class in the state.  The Warriors’ lone loss is to GCL South member Elder, a Division I school that posted a 35-34 OT win at Winton Woods in week eight, after the Warriors’ potential, game-tying extra point hit the upright and bounced wide left.

Winton Woods, coming off an impressive 52-21 win over Anderson in the regional semifinals (the Warriors led 52-15 at halftime), beat La Salle, 18-15, on the road back in week five.   La Salle held a 7-5 lead heading into the final quarter before Winton Woods scored two TDs on runs from Kenny Mayberry and Miyan Williams to put the Warriors in the lead for good.  All things considered, the stingy La Salle defense held down a Winton Woods’ offense that has been rolling all season – limiting Mayberry and Williams to 40 rushes for 139 yards, less than four yards a rush.

Against Anderson, which finished an impressive 10-2, Mayberry completed 12-of-15 passes for 215 yards and two scores, while Williams ran 15 times for 111 yards and three scores.  The previous week, Winton Woods opened with a 61-27 win against Chillicothe.  The strength of La Salle, though, is its defense.  The Lancers, who boast two of the top three tacklers in the GCL South in juniors Jarred Uran (95, first) and Garrett Bledsoe (81, third), have allowed just two opponents to score more than 18 points this season in St. Xavier (a 52-7 loss) and Moeller (a 28-24 victory).

Senior Craig Wills lead the league with four interceptions, as the Lancers have picked off nine passes this season.  La Salle has won five straight games and, during that streak, the Lancers have not allowed an opponent to score more than 10 points.  Coach Pat McLaughlin’s team also has been opportunistic, with senior Sam Hildebrand returning two kickoffs for touchdowns, while senior Shane McNally returned his two interceptions for scores in a first-round playoff win over Harrison – the first covering 47 yards and the second 100 yards on the final play of the game.  Wills has also returned an interception for a score.

Advance tickets to both regional finals are available at the schools for $8.  Tickets are $9 at the gate.

Posted on 11/12/2017 at 10:00 a.m.

La Salle, St. Xavier Look To Defend Their Titles Friday Night

Greater Catholic League South Division members La Salle and St. Xavier both look to take the next step in their respective state title defenses Friday when the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament resumes with regional finals across Ohio.  The neutral sites for the regional title games in all seven divisions, scheduled to be played at 7:30 p.m. Friday unless otherwise noted, were announced late Saturday afternoon by the OHSAA.  Here is a look at the matchups and sites for the two remaining GCL South teams:

Division I, Region 4
No. 1 St. Xavier (11-1) vs. No. Colerain (10-2), Mason’s Atrium Stadium

Division I, Region 8
No. 1 La Salle (10-2) vs. No. 2 Winton Woods (11-1), Withrow’s Angus King Stadium

Tickets for the regional finals are $8 and available this week at the participating schools, with a percentage of the advance ticket sales benefiting the school.  Tickets to all regional games are $9 at the gate.

This is the fourth straight year that St. Xavier has faced Colerain in the regular season and again in the postseason.  The Bombers have won the last two meetings, including a 29-23 comeback overtime victory in the regional semifinals last season and then a 20-17 win – again in OT – in week two of this season, a game Colerain led 14-0 with six minutes remaining.  The last three meetings, and four of the last five, between the two schools have gone into OT.  The Cardinals have won nine straight games since falling to the Bombers, including a convincing 49-21 win against Mason in the regional semifinals.  St. Xavier advanced with a 37-7 win against Sycamore behind a powerful ground game led by junior Chris Payne, who ran for 125 yards and two TDs and its stout defense.

La Salle is riding a 17-game postseason winning streak into its regional final, and the Lancers also own a five-game winning streak.  The only teams to defeat La Salle this season are St. Xavier, which won the GCL South title outright in the process, and Winton Woods – which traveled to Lancer Stadium and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to erase a 7-5 deficit and emerge with an 18-15 victory back in week five.  Winton Woods’ lone loss this year is to GCL South member Elder, 35-34, in OT on a missed extra point.  The Warriors also defeated Moeller, 35-14, the final week of the regular season.  Winton Woods beat Anderson, 52-15, in the region semis; La Salle knocked off Sidney, 41-6.  La Salle is the three-time defending Division II state champion.

Posted on 11/11/2017 at 10:46 a.m.

Rematches With Winton Woods, Colerain Next For GCL South Duo

Defending state champions La Salle and St. Xavier each posted impressive victories in the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament last night but, if the two schools are going to advance to their respective state semifinals, the Greater Catholic League South Division members are going to have to get past their toughest postseason opponents to date.  For La Salle, it must avenge one of only two losses this season (St. Xavier being the other) when it meets Winton Woods in the Division II, Region 8 title game next Friday.  For St. Xavier, it once again must find a way to get by annual state playoff opponent and talent-laden Colerain in the Division I, Region 4 title game.

Both La Salle and St. Xavier, the last two GCL South champions, respectively, extended their seasons with victories in the regional semifinals on a chilly Friday evening at neutral sites.  La Salle, the top seed in its region, built at 34-0 halftime lead and rolled to a 41-6 win over Sidney (10-2) at Miamisburg High School just outside Dayton.  St. Xavier, also the top seed in its region, answered an early Sycamore touchdown with 37 unanswered points in a 37-7 victory over the Aviators at Mason High School.  St. Xavier rallied from a 14-point deficit to defeat Sycamore (9-3), 35-28, in overtime in last year’s regional final.

La Salle (10-2) advances to meet No. 2 seed Winton Woods (11-1) in the Region 8 final at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at a site to be announced this weekend  by the OHSAA.  Winton Woods built a 52-15 halftime lead against No. 3 Anderson and won by that same score in Friday’s other regional semifinal.  The Warriors are 2-1 against the GCL South this season, having defeated La Salle at Lancer Stadium, 18-15, on September 22, and then posting a 35-14 win two weeks ago against Moeller.  Elder is the lone team to beat Winton Woods this season, emerging with a 35-34 OT win at Winton Woods in week eight after a Warriors’ missed extra point.

St. Xavier (11-1) moves on to its annual game against No. 2 Colerain (10-2) in the Region 4 final at 7:30 p.m. Friday at a neutral site.  Colerain advanced with a 49-21 win over No. 3 Mason Friday, its second victory against the Greater Miami Conference rival Comets  this season.  Colerain and St. Xavier have met twice in each of the last three seasons, once during the regular season and again in the playoffs.  After St. Xavier’s 20-17 OT win at Colerain back in week two in early September, a game the Bombers rallied back from a 14-0 deficit in the fourth quarter to win, St. Xavier coach Steve Specht told Colerain’s Tom Bolden that he would see the Cardinals again.  He was right.

Four of the last five meetings have gone to OT, including the last thee – one being  St. Xavier’s come-from-behind 29-23 win in the regional semifinals last season that helped catapult the Bombers to becoming the first team in OHSAA history to lose five regular-season games and go on to win a state championship.  Three of the Bombers’ postseason wins a year away needed OT or double OT, the last being a 27-20 win over Cleveland St. Ignatius in two overtimes in the state final to win the school’s third state football crown – also earning titles in 2005 and 2007.  This season, Colerain has not lost since its setback to St. Xavier – reeling off 10 consecutive victories.

Here is a quick glance at La Salle and St. Xavier’s wins Friday:

Lancers Streak At 17 – La Salle, looking for a four-peat in Division II this season, has now won 17 straight postseason games after its convincing victory against Sidney.  Senior quarterback Griffin Merritt led the Lancers’ offense, connecting on 13-of-20 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns, while the Lancers’ defense turned in another winning performance – allowing just seven first downs, 153 total yards and forcing two turnovers.  Receivers Jake Seibert and Jake Roberts each caught a pair of scoring passes, while sophomore Cameron Porter rushed 12 times for 88 yards and a TD.  Defensively, Luke Thiemann had five tackles and  an interception.

Bombers On The Run – A week after picking up just 27 yards rushing in a win against Fairfield, with senior quarterback Chase Wolf throwing for a career-best 374 yards and four TDs, St. Xavier was determined to get its ground game untacked against Sycamore.  And it did, rushing 30 times for 214 yards (a 7.1-yard average), led by 13 attempts for 125 yards and two TDs by junior Chris Payne (who had 169 yards and two TDs in the first 11 games).  Senior Mathew Fox and sophomore Kellen Newman also scored on the ground for St. Xavier, which got another outstanding performance from its defense – limiting Sycamore to nine first downs and 2-of-11 on third-down conversations.

Posted on 11/5/2017 at 4:31 p.m.

La Salle, St. Xavier Look To Continue Postseason Runs Friday Night

Greater Catholic League South Division members and defending state champions La Salle and St. Xavier will look to take the next steps in their postseason journeys Friday, when the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament resumes with regional semifinals at neutral sites.  La Salle, the three-time defending Division II state champion, will meet Sidney in the Region 8 semifinals at 7:30 p.m. at Miamisburg High School.  Defending Division I state champ St. Xavier will meet Sycamore in the Region  4 semis at Mason High School.

La Salle (9-2), which extended its postseason winning streak to 16 games with a 45-10 win over Harrison in Friday’s opening round at La Salle’s Lancer Stadium, is vying to win its fifth straight game when it meets Sidney (10-1).  A victory Friday will earn the Lancers their fourth straight trip to the Region 8 final on Friday, November 17.  Anderson (10-1) will oppose Winton Woods (10-1) in the other Region 8 semi at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lakota West High School.  La Salle, Winton Woods (which defeated La Salle, 18-15, earlier this season and is 2-1 against the GCL South this season) have held down the top three spots in the regional Harbin computer ratings all season.

Top seed St. Xavier (10-1), which for the second straight season opened the state playoffs with a win against Fairfield (this time 40-12 at St. Xavier) is facing No, 4 seed Sycamore (9-2) for the second straight year in the playoffs.  Last season, the Bombers rallied from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to emerge with a 35-28 win in overtime in the regional final to keep its postseason journey alive.  Sycamore needed double OT to defeat Milford, 41-35, last Friday at Sycamore Stadium.  The Aviators’ only losses this season are to Colerain and Fairfield.  No. 2 seed Colerain will face No. 3 seed Mason in the other regional semi at Princeton’s Viking Stadium.

The Region 4 final also is scheduled for Friday, November 17.

Tickets to the regional semifinal games are $8 in advance and available at participating schools, with a portion of the revenue benefiting that particular school.  Tickets are $9 at the gate.

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