Elder, La Salle Advance To State Football Finals


Posted on 11/30/2019 at 12:00 p.m.

GCL South Teams Look To Win State’s Top Two Divisional Titles

The Greater Catholic League South Division has long been regarded as one of the top high school football conferences in the state, region and the country – evidenced by the four member schools combining to win 10 state football championships since 2002.  Next week, the league will have an opportunity to win two divisional state titles in the same year for the second time in four years, after Elder and La Salle each recorded victories in their respective state semifinals of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Football State Tournament Friday night.

Elder (12-2) earned a trip to the Division I state championship game with its third consecutive come-from-behind win, a 31-24 thriller Friday night against Springfield at Piqua’s Alexander Stadium.  The Panthers, who trailed 14-7 in the first half before scoring a pair of touchdowns in just over two minutes early in the fourth quarter to snap a 17-17 tie and hold off a late Springfield drive to emerge victorious, will face Pickerington Central (13-1) at 8 p.m. next Friday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.  Pickerington Central defeated previously unbeaten Mentor, the state’s No. 1-ranked team all season,27-21,  in its semifinal Friday at Canton GlenOak to advance.  Pickerington Central is vying for its second DI state title in three years, also beating Mentor to win the 2017 crown, while Elder is looking for its third state championship overall after winning in 2002 and 2004.  The Panthers last played in the state final in 2009, falling to Cleveland St. Ignatius, 28-20.

La Salle (12-2), which entered its state semifinal game having outscored its three state playoff opponents by a combined score of 122-15, got off to another quick start – taking a 14-point lead twice in the first half – and went on to post a 35-21 victory against previously undefeated Toledo Central Catholic Friday at Sidney Memorial Stadium.  The Lancers advance to face Massillon Washington (14-0) in the state final at 7 p.m. next Thursday in Canton.  Massillon defeated Avon, 35-0, in its state semifinal game at Byers Field in Parma.  La Salle is making its fourth DII state title appearance in six years, having won three straight state titles from 2014 to 2016.  La Salle is 21-1 in the postseason the last six years, the lone setback coming to Winton Woods, 16-14, in the 2017 regional final.

La Salle and St. Xavier, GCL South rivals both located on North Bend Road, each won state football championships in 2016.  That year, St. Xavier also became the first team in OHSAA history to enter the state playoffs with a 5-5 record and go on to win the state title.  During its improbable postseason run, engineered by then senior quarterback Sean Clifford (now starting at Penn State University), St. Xavier reeled off five impressive wins – including a come-from-behind victory against previously undefeated Colerain and a 27-20, double-overtime thrilled against Cleveland St. Ignatius in the state final at Ohio Stadium.  The titles that year were the third for both La Salle and St. Xavier, which also won in 2005 and 2007.

Defending DIV state winner Wyoming is vying tonight to make it a perfect 3-for-3 for Cincinnati schools when it meets Clyde in its state semifinal at Marysville Impact Stadium, looking to extend its winning streak to 29 games and join Elder and La Salle in Canton next week.  The DIV state final will be held next Saturday.

After trailing GCL South rival St. Xavier, 24-21, in the regional finals before scoring on a 70-yard TD run by senior quarterback Matthew Luebbe with 1:20 left  to record a 28-24 win, and then falling behind Colerain by seven points twice in the first half of the regional final before rallying for a 28-21 win, Elder trailed Springfield, which entered riding an 11-game winning streak, 14-7, midway through the second quarter.  But the Panthers were able to tie the game, 14-14, when senior quarterback Matthew Luebbe hooked up with senior receiver and Ohio State University verbal commit Joe Royer on a 7-yard TD pass with just 12 second remaining before halftime.

Both teams added field goals in the third quarter, and then Elder scored on a 3-yard run by senior Joseph Catania with 10:58 remaining in the fourth quarter.  Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Royer recovered a kick that bounced off a Springfield receiver and set Elder up in plus territory, with junior Cooper Johnson going in from 5 yards out with 9:21 left in the game to give Elder a 31-17 advantage.  Springfield, however, managed to cut the deficit to 31-24 on a 15-yard scoring strike from sophomore quarterback Te’Sean Smoot to senior Larry Stephens with 6:46 left in the game.  The Wildcats had a final chance to mount a potential game-winning drive, but the Panthers’ defense came up big with a final stop to preserve the thrilling victory.

Like he has done all season, Luebbe led Elder in rushing with 114 yards on 25 carries – the seventh straight 100-yard plus game for the GCL South’s leading rusher.  He also completed 20-of-27 passes for 221 yards, two TDs and one interception.  Royer came up with a number of big catches, finishing with six receptions for 78 yards and a TD, while senior Evan Vollmer led the Panthers – hauling in 11 passes for 117 yards, including a 5-yard TD to give Elder an early 7-0 lead.  Vollmer set up the Panthers; first TD after taking a short Luebbe pass and scampering 55 yards to the Springfield 7 with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter.

Vollmer’s big game was especially helpful since Elder was without versatile sophomore Drew Ramsey, who was sidelined with any injury.  Ramsey had 54 receptions for 563 yards and five TDS, while also rushing for 245 yards in the Panthers’ first 13 games.  The Elder defense also played solid, forcing four Springfield turnovers and putting pressure on the talented Smoot all game.  Ben Deters, Nicholas Colton Sandhas and Nicholas Seger each had interceptions for Elder while Sandhas – the GCL South leading tackler – led the Panthers with eight total tackles.

For the fifth straight game, La Salle wasted no time putting up points to take an early lead against Toledo Central Catholic – scoring on its first two drives and then adding a third TD to lead 21-7 in the second quarter.  The trend started in the final game of the regular season against Elder in a winner-take-all matchup against Elder for the GCL South championship.  That night, the Lancers scored three first-quarter TDs and built a 27-6 halftime lead before holding on for a 27-25 victory.  In the opening round of the OHSAA state playoffs, La Salle led Little Miami 21-0 in seven minutes and 35-0 after one quarter of a 42-0 victory, before scoring four second-quarters TDs to lead 46-0 at halftime of a 35-7 win against Columbus Walnut Ridge in the regional semifinals, and then roll to a 24-0 lead after one quarter and 45-0 advantage at halftime against Harrison in the 45-8 victory in the regional final eight days earlier.

Junior quarterback Zach Branam had a big game for the Lancers, accounting for four of his team’s scores – three on the ground and one through the air.  Branam capped the Lancers’ first two drives with TD runs of 8 and 38 yards, respectively, to give the Lancers a 14-lead.  He then connected with sophomore speedster Gi’Bran Payne on a 59-yard pass to put La Salle up 21-7.  Toledo Central Catholic managed to put together a scoring drive before halftime to cut the deficit to 21-14.

But La Salle scored on a pair of 1-yard runs in the third quarter, the first from senior back Cam Porter and the second from Branam to take an insurmountable 21-point lead after three quarters, 35-14.  The road doesn’t get any easier for La Salle in the state final, as the Lancers will face their third undefeated team in the last four weeks in Massillon – which is coached for former La Salle leader Nate Moore, who guided La Salle to its first state title back in 2014 before taking over at Massillon, one of the state’s most storied programs and a team that has been considered one of the DII favorites all season along with defending state champion Akron Archbishop Hoban, the defending state champion that it beat, 17-14, in the regional final, and La Salle.