St. Xavier, La Salle Advance In State Football Playoffs


Posted on 10/31/2020 at 11:04 p.m.

Bombers Late TD Earns State Semifinal Berth; Lancers Continue Roll
In its last four games, the fast-paced, high-octane St. Xavier offense had been nearly unstoppable – averaging 51 points per game and scoring quickly and in bunches, utilizing the big play.  But Friday night, the Bombers lined up against a Lakota West defense that had been equally as good on its side of the ball all season, pitching four shutouts, allowing only two of eight opponents to score in double figures, and surrendering a total of 41 points to remain undefeated and earn the No. 1 seed in the region entering the state playoffs.
And, for more than 46 minutes of the Division I, Region 4 final of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Football State Tournament at Firebird Stadium on the Lakota West campus in West Chester, the home team had the upper hard – limiting St. Xavier to just a field goal and holding a 7-3 advantage starting what would likely be the final drive of the game – and maybe the season – for St. Xavier.
This time, though, the Bombers would respond – putting together a 12-play, 79-yard drive that culminated with a 17-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Brogan McCaughey to senior receiver and Penn State University commit Liam Clifford – who found himself wide open in the back left corner of the end zone – for a game-winning score with just 27 second remaining in a stunning 10-7 victory that moves St. Xavier into the DI Final Four this coming week.
St. Xavier (8-2), which has now won five straight and eight of its last nine, advances to meet Region 2 winner Springfield (8-1) at 7 p.m. next Friday at Piqua High School’s Alexander Stadium. Springfield moved on with a 19-0 victory against Powell Olentangy Liberty last night in its regional final at Springfield.  Mentor (9-1), the Region 1 champion, will oppose defending state champion Pickerington Central (10-0), which won Region 3 again, in the other state semifinal next Friday.  Pickerington Central defeated Elder, 21-14, in the state final last year.
La Salle, the second Greater Catholic League South Division team in the state playoffs, continued its recent postseason dominance last night at Lancer Stadium on the La Salle High School campus.  La Salle, which had leads of 38-0 and 42-0 at halftime of its wins in the first two rounds, scored 27 points in the first quarter and held a 41-24 advantage at intermission and ultimately recorded at 55-30 victory against Anderson in the regional semifinals.  The win sets up a matchup between the region’s top two seeds with a state semifinal berth on the line next Friday, when the Lancers (7-2) will face No. 1 Winton Woods (9-0) at a site to be announced later.
Winton Woods advanced with a 20-10 victory against previously unbeaten Kings its semifinal game last night at home.  The Warriors defeated La Salle in the 2017 state playoffs, 16-14, and went on to the DII title game that year before losing to Akron Archbishop Hoban.  That is the only defeat suffered by the Lancers in its last five postseason appearances, putting together a 25-1 playoff record since 2014.  La Salle did not qualify for the postseason in 2018.  Winton Woods also handed La Salle its lone defeat last season, 26-21, on October 25, week nine of the regular season.
St. Xavier and La Salle high school, separated by a mere 5.1 miles on North Bend Road, are trying to become state football champions in the same season for the second time in five years.  The two GCL South rivals both won state crowns in 2016, with the Bombers ended the regular season 5-5 before putting together an improbable run through the state playoffs to win the third DI state title in its football history (2005 and 2007 the others), while La Salle capped a three-peat at the DII level by winning again that season.  The Lancers are the defending DII state champions this year after winning a fourth championship last December.
Moeller also played its final game of the 2020 season last night, traveling to Fort Thomas, Ky. to face Highlands in a regular-season game.  The Crusaders closed with a 50-14 victory, their second win in the last three games under first-year coach Mark Elder.  The OHSAA gave its member schools the chance to play games once being eliminated from the state playoffs over the final three weeks of what would have been a normal 10-game regular season.  The season was shortened to six games, with all teams making the postseason for the first time in its history, because of COVID-19.  Moeller defeated Hamilton, 43-27, in the first round of the state playoffs before falling to St. Xavier, 45-14, in the second round and then taking a week off before last night’s finale.
The Crusaders scored the game’s first 26 points and Highlands could never get closer than 19 the rest of the game.  Moeller (3-6) racked up nearly 500 yards total offense, while limiting Highlands (3-5) to five first downs and 96 yards offense.  Crusaders’ junior quarterback Noah Geselbracht completed 23=of-30 passes for 332 yards and four TDs.  His favorite targets were sophomore Tennel Bryant, who caught eight passes for 111 yards and two scores, senior back TJ Rotello (4 catches, 107 yards, one TD) and junior tight end Josh Kattus (six catches, 68 yards, one TD).  Kattus hauled in TD passes in five of the last six games.
For St. Xavier, the only scoring in the first half came with 4:17 left in the second quarter when Mason Rohmiller connected on a 32-yard field goal to give the Bombers a 3-0 lead at intermission.  West (8-1), however, took the lead in the third quarter when sophomore quarterback Mitch Bolden scored on a 14-yard run with 6:46 left. West had another prime opportunity to score, but a TD run was called back because of a holding penalty and the Firebirds missed a field goal.
The West defense kept St. Xavier out of the end zone all night, and the Firebirds appeared close to icing the game when senior Cameron Good broke free on a 41-yard run into Bombers’ territory to give West a first down and the chance to continue moving the ball and perhaps run out the clock or drive deep into St. Xavier territory.
But a snap in the shotgun was errant on first down, creating a 10-yard loss that West could not recover from and, as a result, was forced to punt.  The Bombers would get a final chance at a scoring drive, taking over at their own its 21 with 2:41 remaining and two timeouts against a West defense that held the St. Xavier to just 4-of-17 on third-down conversions in the game and held St. Xavier without a TD in the first quarter for the first time this season and held the Bombers to their lowest point total of 2020.
The Bombers were able to sustain the one drive of the game they needed, aided by a 16-yard connection from McCaughey to senior receiver Jalen Patterson that moved St. Xavier into scoring position and set up the eventual winning pass to Clifford – whose older brother Sean helped lead St. Xavier to the 2016 state title and is now playing at Penn State.  Clifford, who caught five passes for 45 yards in the game, became the school’s all-time receiving leader with 153 career catches. Junior backs Charles Kellom and Luke Vrsansky had 114 and 66 yards rushing, respectively.  Senior linebacker Matthew Devine led St. Xavier with a team-high 11 tackles.
For West, junior linebacker Aden Miller had a game-high 15 tackles, and senior defensive back William Barber added 10.  While West was held to nine first downs and failed to convert on third down in 12 attempts, the Firebirds’ duo of senior running back Joshua Brogden (eight carries, 78 yards) and junior Cameron Goode (seven, 63 yards) carried the load.
La Salle turned to its rushing attack against Andeon, despite the Lancers’ talented junior back Gi’Bran Payne carrying only one time for 22 yards while working his way back from a high ankle sprain.  Instead, it was senior quarterback Zach Branam and senior back Jack Rutz who carried much of the load on a night the Lancers rolled up almost 450 yards rushing.  Rutz scored on a 73-yard TD run and Branam followed with a 77-uard scoring run to give La Salle a 27-14 lead after one quarter.  The Lancers, who averaged 221 yards a game on the ground before Friday, ran for 215 in the first quarter alone.
Branam ran for a game-high 257 yards and three TDs, while also passing for an additional 137 yards.  Rutz ran for 118 yards and two scores.  He only carried only seven times in the Lancers’ first three games of the season.