La Salle, St. Xavier Advance To State Football Semis

11/19/2016

Posted on 11/19/2016 at 1:51 p.m.

Lancers Post Another Convincing win; Bombers Rally Late Again In Thriller

Many thought this wasn’t a typical year for the Greater Catholic League South Division in football.  Some thought that the GCL South, annually known for producing state championship contenders, might be off a bit this season.  But Friday night, La Salle and St. Xavier both advanced to their respective state semifinals – albeit in much different fashions – to give the league one-fourth of the semifinal qualifiers in the state’s top two divisions of the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament.

La Salle (11-2) moved two wins away from a three-peat at the Division II level with a 45-14 victory over Miamisburg in the Region 8 final at Mason’s Atrium Stadium.  The Lancers, who have now won nine straight games this season and own a 13-game postseason winning streak, advance to the state semifinals at 7:30 p.m. next Friday against an opponent to be announced Sunday afternoon when the OHSAA releases its state semifinal pairings, complete with opponent and site.

St. Xavier (8-5), a week after rallying from 16 points down in the final minutes of the third quarter to knock off No. 1 Colerain, 29-23, in overtime, did it again.  This time, though, the Bombers trailed Sycamore, 28-14, with just over two minutes left in the game, before staging a furious comeback to force OT again and eventually emerge with a 35-28 win in the Division I, Region 4 final at Hamilton’s Virgil M. Schwarm Stadium.  The Bombers advance to meet Pickerington Central (12-1) in the state semis at 7:30 Friday night.

Pickerington Central captured Region 3 by knocking off two-time defending state runner-up and previously undefeated Huber Heights Wayne, 17-14, Friday at London High School.  The Tigers won on the game’s final play when Brandon Vollmer kicked a 19-yard field goals as time expired.  Pickerington Central and St. Xavier last played in the 2011 state semifinals, with Pickerington Central earning a state final appearance with a 14-7 victory.

La Salle turned in its second consecutive dominating performance.  A week after defeating previously unbeaten Turpin, 34-3, behind a stifling defense, the Lancers got two TD passes from junior quarterback Griffin Merritt, two scoring runs from senior Jarell White for the second straight week, and a special teams TD from senior Da’Meak Brandon to compliment another strong performance by the Lancers’ defense in the win against a strong Miamisburg team.

Merritt completed 7-of-10 passes for 154 yards and two second-quarter TD passes – a 37-yarder to John Whyle and a 28-yarder to Joey Stacy.  White scored on TD runs of 15 and 28 yards, and Brandon returned a punt 83 yards for a score to give La Salle a 17-0 lead over Miamisburg (10-3) after one quarter.  The Lancers led Turpin, 17-0, at halftime last week.  Brandon also intercepted a pass and returned it 32 yards; sophomore linebacker Brody Injgle led the Lancers’ defense with nine total tackles.

La Salle scored 31 points on just 17 plays in the first half.

This has turned into quite a magical season for St. Xavier – which battled through a lengthy list of injuries to key players during the regular season to finish 5-5 and earn a berth in the state playoffs.  The Bombers began their postseason journey by forcing five turnovers in a road win at Fairfield, rallied from a 23-7 deficit late in the third quarter last week to beat Colerain, the state’s top-ranked team all season, and then staged another improbable comeback against Sycamore to move two wins away from the school’s third state football title.

For much of Friday night, the Bombers’ offense struggled against an Aviators team that was looking for its seventh straight win.  And, after senior running back Ra’Von Bonner broke free for a school-record, 99-yard TD run with 7:00 left to give his team at 28-14 lead, it looked like St. Xavier was about finished and that Sycamore (8-5) was headed to the state semifinals for the first time in school history.  But you can’t count out this group of Bombers, who scored twice in the final 2:11 to force an extra period.

For the second straight week, too, it was senior quarterback Sean Clifford who came off the bench to rally St. Xavier.  Clifford, a Penn State University commit, finished the game completing 19-of-27 passes for 229 yards and two TDs, while also rushing 21 times for 171 yards and two more scores.  Clifford’s 9-yard TD run with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter narrowed the deficit to 28-21 after Sycamore failed to convert on fourth down.  Following a successful onside kick by the Bombers, Clifford then connected with junior Cameron Specht for a 34-yard score to tie the game, 28-28, with 1:54 left.

In overtime, St. Xavier had the ball first and Clifford hooked up with junior Andrew Wittrock for a 9-yard TD.  Last week, after the Bombers held Colerain on its first possession in OT, Clifford found senior Nicholas Moeller on the next play for a 20-yard scoring pass and the win.  This time, the Bombers’ defense held Sycamore on its OT possession to give St. Xavier tis second consecutive thrilling win, a fourth victory overall and first trip to the state semis in five years.

Bonner, a candidate for Ohio Mr. Football, turned in another outstanding performance against a touch St. Xavier defense.  The University of Illinois commit rushed 35 times for 210 yards and three TDs in his final game.  Bonner finishes the season with 2,332 yards rushing and 38 rushing TDs.  He finishes his career with 80s TD, the most in Sycamore history and a total that will rank him on the all-time Ohio prep scoring list.