St. Xavier, La Salle Look To Keep State Title Runs Alive


Posted on 10/30/2020 at 6:18 p.m.

Bombers; Offense Faces Test Against West; Lancers’ Secondary On Alert
Greater Catholic League South Division members St. Xavier and La Salle look to take another step forward tonight in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Football State Tournament.  In the Division I, Region 4 final, St. Xavier’s high-powered offense that is averaging 53 points in its last four games faces a Lakota West defense that has pitched four shutouts, given up double figures to just two opponents in eight games, and has surrendered 41 points all season.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Firebird Stadium on the Lakota West campus in West Chester.
La Salle, the defending DII state champion and winner of four of the last six state titles, boasts a secondary that features four seniors who have all received scholarship offers from BCS schools.  And its’s a good thing, as the Lancers – who have won seven straight postseason games and are 24-1 overall in the state playoffs in their last five appearances – will attempt to slow an Anderson passing attack in a DII, Region 8 semifinal that has racked up nearly 3,000 yards through the air in just nine games.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at La Salle’s Lancer Stadium on on its North Bend Road campus.
Top seed Winton Woods hosts unbeaten Kings in the other semifinal.
To say that St. Xavier (7-2), winner of seven of its last eight games and the regular-season GCL South champion, has been on a roll the last month would be an understatement.  Buoyed by the fast-paced offense directed by coordinator Andrew Coverdale, the Bombers have been virtually unstoppable – evidenced most recently by last Saturday’s 56-28 win against league rival Elder in the regional semifinals.
After Elder had scored twice quickly in the third quarter to tie the game, 28-28, St. Xavier put up 28 unanswered points – including three touchdowns in the fourth quarter – to pull away in the second half.  Junior quarterback Brogan McCaughey tossed five TD passes and junior back Charles Kellom had four total TDs – two rushing and two receiving for a St. Xavier offense that has scored 62, 49, 45 and 56 points, respectively, the last four games.
It won’t be nearly as easy against West (8-0), the Greater Miami Conference champion in just the second season of head coach Tom Bolden – who was at Colerain for a decade plus previously and had plenty of intriguing matchups against St. Xavier and longtime Bombers’ head coach Steve Specht.  Bolden and Specht are good friends and, in fact, have coached together in games for USA Football and on the all-star circuit after the season.
West, which started its season with a 10-0 shutout win against Colerain, has been difficult to score on all season.  The Firebirds have given up double figures only twice all season – once in a 40-13 win against Hamilton in the regular season and in a 31-14 victory against rival Lakota East in the state playoffs two weeks ago.   Senior linebackers Jackson Kuwatch and Kam Vargas lead a fast and talented Firebirds’ defense in tackles.  Sophomore Mitch Bolden, son of coach Tom Bolden, is West’s leading rusher and passer at quarterback.  He continues to develop each week, and has thrown four TDs with no interceptions in the last four games.
When La Salle hosts Anderson, it will be the Lancers’ defense focused on slowing an offense that is in high gear the last four weeks – scoring 42, 52, 52 and 29 points, respectively, in its last four games.  Anderson (7-2) went on the road and dealt with a lengthy weather delay last Friday before emerging with a 29-22 win against Piqua.  Coach Evan Dreyer’s team is led by senior quarterback Jackson Kuhn, who has completed 221-of-322 passes for 2,911 yards, 21 TDs and 10 interceptions. He averages almost 325 yard passing per game.
In the Eastern Cincinnati Conference statistics, Anderson has four of  the top five receivers in terms of receiving yards in Joey Faulkner (712), Evan Upchurch (677), Jarrick McClanahan (585) and Andrew Williams (549).  But La Salle, which has won three games in a row and five of its last six, will counter with a talent-laden defensive secondary led by University of Alabama commit Devonte Smith – who is joined in the backfield by Jaylen Johnson (Ohio State), Isea Jarmon (Cincinnati) and Jaymar Hargrove-Mundy (Miami, Ohio).
The Lancers, too, will likely attempt to control the clock behind senior quarterback Zach Branam – who is the team leader in both rushing yards and passing yards, with 768 and 1,250, respectively. Branam ran for 190 yards and two scores in the playoff opener against Little Miami, and then completed 10-of-16 passes for 199 yards and four TDs in the win last week against Dayton Stebbins.  Don’t expect La Salle to be caught looking ahead to a potential matchup with top-seed Winton Woods, a team that the Lancers faced in the 2017 regional final and lost 16-14 as the Warriors advanced to the DII title game before falling to Archbishop Akron Hoban. 
Anderson’s two losses this season are to Winton Woods and Kings, which have a combined 15-0 record and meet tonight in the other regional semifinal.  Anderson has won four games in a row, including two straight in the postseason.  La Salle’s defeats are to St. Xavier, which is playing in the DI, Region 4 final, and Indianapolis Cathedral, the top-ranked team in all classes in the Hoosier state that is also nationally ranked.