Elder, La Salle Win Regional Football Championships

11/23/2019

Posted on 11/23/2019 at 3:47 p.m.

GCL South Teams Advance To Respective State Semifinals Friday Night

Since Greater Catholic League South Division has long been regarded as one of the top high school football conferences in the country, and Elder and La Salle only enhanced its reputation Friday night by winning regional championships to earn berths in the state semifinals of their respective divisions in the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Football Tournament.  Elder captured the Division I, Region 4 title with a come-from-behind, 28-21 victory against Colerain at Mason High School’s Dwire Field at Atrium Stadium to win its first regional crown since 2009, while La Salle had its third straight dominant performance to win the D II, Region 8 crown with a 45-8 victory against Harrison last evening at Lakota West High School’s Firebird Stadium – the Lancers’ fourth regional championship in the last six years.

Elder (11-2), which has won eight of nine games with the lone defeat coming to La Salle, 27-25, the final week of the regular season in a game for the GCL South championship, advances to meet Region 2 winner Springfield (12-1) in the state semifinals at 7 p.m. next Friday at a site to be announced Sunday by the OHSAA.  Springfield defeated Dublin Coffman, 7-3, to win its regional title last night.  Mentor (13-0), which eliminated defending state champion Lakewood St. Edward, 36-35,in OT to win Region 1, will face Region 3 champion Pickerington Central (12-1) in the other semifinal matchup.  Pickerington Central advanced with a 23-7 victory against Groveport Madison.  Mentor’s win against St. Edward was its second this season over the Eagles by a single point, also winning 29-28 in the season opener in late August.

La Salle (11-2), which is 21-1 in the state playoffs since winning the first of three consecutive DII state titles back in 2014, moves on to face Region 6 champion Toledo Central Catholic in the semis at 7 p.m. next Friday at a site to be announced.  Toledo Central Catholic (13-0) remained unbeaten with a 35-14 win against Lewis Center Olentangy in its region final.  Region 5 winner Massillon Washington (13-0) will oppose Avon (13-0), the Region 6 champ, in the other semifinal game.  Washington, led by former La Salle coach Nate Moore, knocked out defending state champion Akron Archbishop Hoban, 17-14 to win its region, while Avon beat Avon Lake, 20-3, to keep its state title hopes alive.

The 2019 OHSAA Football State Championships will be played December 5-7 at Thom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, with the exact dates and pairings for each of the seven divisional titles to be announced following the next weekend’s state semifinals.

Against Colerain, defending region champion and winner of 10 straight since a setback to GCL South member St. Xavier, 21-14, in week two, Elder took an early 7-0 lead on a seven-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Matthew Luebbe to senior receiver Joe Royer with 8:56 remaining in the first quarter.  But Colerain responded by scoring 14 unanswered points to jump in front less than two minutes into the second quarter.  Cardinals’ senior defensive back Deshawn Pace stepped in front of a Luebbe pass for an interception and returned it 72 yards for a score to tie the game at 7, and then senior back Hamzah Abdul-Waheed dashed 80 yards for a TD to give Colerain a 14-7 advantage with 10:16 left in the first half.

Luebbe, the co-GCL South Player of the Year, scored the first of his two rushing TDs from the 1-yard line with 2:47 left in the second quarter to tie the score, 14-14.  Colerain, however, took the lead into the locker room on a 36-yard scoring pass from Freddie Johnson to Isaiah Myers with 47 second remaining in the second quarter.  Despite outgaining Colerain in the first half, Elder was victimized by three turnovers against a Cardinals’ defense that was allowing just 13 points a game and had surrendered only 27 points in its last four games.  Neither team scored in the third quarter, leaving the Panthers trailing by a TD heading into the final 12 minutes.  Elder was attempting to snap a two-game losing streak to Colerain in the postseason, falling in the regional final in 2015 and last season.

Elder, looking for its first regional title since winning back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009, managed to tie the score on a 5-yard pass from Luebbe to the Ohio State University verbal commit Royer with 4:58 left – setting the stage for another late Luebbe game-winning TD.  A week earlier, it was Luebbe’s 80-yard scoring run with 1:20 remaining that erased a three-point deficit and gave the Panthers a 28-24 win against GCL South rival St. Xavier in the semifinals.  This time, Luebbe covered 24 yards for a TD with 1:36 to go to put Elder ahead, 28-21.  Colerain would have a final chance to tie the game, but the clock would run out after the Cardinals advanced the ball into Elder territory.

Luebbe finished with nearly 400 yards of total offense, completing 23-of-30 passes for 309 yards, two TDs and two interceptions.  He also rushed 29 times for 170 yards and two scores.  Royer and sophomore Drew Ramsey each had six receptions for 79 and 63 yards, respectively, for Elder – which amassed 21 first downs and 413 total yards.  Colerain (11-2), playing without its leading rusher in senior Jaylen Thomas who was sidelined after being injured in an automobile accident last weekend, was led by Waheed – who carried 10 times for 118 yards and a score, while Johnson was 7-of-9 passing for 104 yards and a TD.

La Salle has made a habit of quick starts in the postseason.  The Lancers, who held a 21-0 advantage in the first six minutes in their opener against Little Miami and a 35-0 halftime lead las week versus Columbus Walnut Ridge, were at it again against a Harrison team that entered the matchup riding a 10-game winning streak and had outscored its opponents by an average of 25 points per game.  La Salle went  90 yards in two plays on its opening possession, capped by a 39-yard pass from Zach Branam to Jaylen Norwood to give the Lancers a 7-0 lead just 25 seconds into the game.

La Salle increased the advantage to 14-0 on a 6-yard TD run by senior and Northwestern University commit Cam Porter with just two minutes later.  Branam then connected on his second 39-yard scoring strike, this time to junior Devonta Smith, with 6:08 remaining in the first quarter to make it 21-0.  And senior Jake Seibert, an Ohio State commit, nailed a career-long, 48-yard field goal to make it 24-0.

The Lancers would add TD runs by sophomore Gi’Bran Payne covering 46 yards, a 38-yard scamper by Branam, and a 95-yard interception return for a score by Payne in the final minute to make it 45-0 at halftime.  La Salle finished with 234 of its 289 yards total offense on the ground, with Branam gaining 104 yards to lead the Lancers.  The junior quarterback also completed 6-of-8 passes for 155 yards and two TDs.  Talented senior QB Connor Kinnett of Harrison (11-2) led the Wildcats, completing 18-of-32 passes for 229 yards and a pair of TDs, finishing his senior season with 38 passing TDs.  The Wildcats were making the fourth state playoff appearance in their history and first trip to the regional final in 13 years.

The four GCL south schools have combined to win 10 state football championships since 2002 – with each school winning at least two during that span.  La Salle (2014, 2015 and 2016 in DII) and St. Xavier (2006, 2007 and 2016 in DI) have each won three state titles, while Elder (2002 and 2003) and Moeller (2012 and 2013) have both won a pair of DI state crowns.  St. Xavier became the first team in OHSAA playoff history to finish the regular season at 5-5 and go on to win a state title, reeling off five consecutive postseason victories in 2016.