St. Xavier, La Salle One Step Closer To State FB Titles


Posted on 11/7/2020 at 6:20 p.m.

Bombers’ D Comes Up Big Again; Lancers Continue Postseason Dominance
Greater Catholic League South Division rivals St. Xavier and La Salle,  with their respective high school campuses separated by just 5.1 miles on North Bend Road, each took a huge step toward winning state football championships in the same season for the second time in five years by posting victories in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Football State Tournament on Friday night in Southwest Ohio.
For the second straight game, the explosive, high-powered St. Xavier offense was held to a single touchdown and, this time, was victimized by five turnovers.  But, for the second game in a row, the Bombers’ defense stepped up to the challenge and held Springfield scoreless in the final two quarters as St. Xavier came from behind to earn a 12-10 win in the state semifinals at Piqua High School’s Alexander Memorial Stadium.
St. Xavier (9-2), which won the 2016 state title after entering the final week of the regular season at 4-5 before qualifying for the state playoffs and then putting together an improbable postseason run to become the first team in OHSAA history to win state after going 5-5 during the regular season, advances to meet defending state champion Pickerington Central (11-0) in the state final at 7 p.m. next Friday at Fortress Obetz, located just southeast of Columbus.  Pickerington Central held off Mentor, 38-31, in the other semifinal last night at New Philadelphia.
La Salle (8-2), which has now won five straight and seven of its last eight, traveled to No 1 seed and previously undefeated Winton Woods and recorded a 35-10 victory against the talent-laden Warriors to move to the DII state semifinals.  The Lancers, who won the third of three straight state crowns in 2016 and also are the defending state champs, have won nine consecutive state playoff games and are 26-1 in their last five postseason appearances.
The Lancers will now play Massillon Washington (9-1) in the state semifinals at 7 p.m. next Friday at a site to be announced this weekend by the OHSAA.  The Lancers played Washington in the DII state final last season, a 34-17 win by La Salle at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.  Washington is coached by Nate Moore, who led La Salle to its first of three straight state titles in 2014 before heading to Northeast Ohio.  Washington advanced to the DII Final Four with a 43-13 win at No. 1 seed Massillon Perry to win Region 7 last night.  Washington has won nine straight after opening with a 24-23 loss to Lakewood St. Edward.
Winton Woods, too, is the last team to defeat La Salle in the state playoffs – winning 16-14 in the 2017 regional final before going on to play against Akron Archbishop Hoban in the DII final that year.  Kettering Alter, a member of the GCL South Co-Ed Division, is the third overall league school to advance to the state semifinals – earning a berth in DII with a 35-21 win at Ross last night.
St. Xavier has had its share of drama the last two games – including last week’s 10-7 victory at No. 1 seed Lakota West, when the Bombers put together a 12-play, 79-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 17-yard TD pass from junior quarterback Brogan McCaughey to senior receiver Liam Clifford with just 27 seconds remaining to give the Bombers their lone TD of the game and the win after averaging better than 50 pints per game in the previous four weeks.
It again was difficult scoring against Springfield (8-2), which posted a shutout against Powell Olentangy Liberty, 19-0, in its regional final the previous week and was allowing just under 15 points a game. The Bombers were unable to capitalize on a couple big plays, were victimized by key penalties (including offensive holding that called back a 61-yard TD pass from McCaughey to tight end Max Klare) and turnovers – with McCaughey being intercepted four times and losing a fumble.
Yet, after trailing 10-3 at halftime and after the penalty negated the TD pass, St. Xavier managed to cut the deficit to 10-9 on a 38-yard strike from McCaughey to Clifford, who earned the last five yards on his own before the Bombers missed their first extra point of the season because of a bad snap to trail by a point, 10-9, left in the third quarter.  Clifford finished with nine catches for 124 yards.  St. Xavier would take the lead at 12-10 when junior kicker Mason Rohmiller booted a 21-yard field goal, his second of the game, with 3:17 remaining in the third quarter to make it 12-10.
In the end, it was the St. Xavier defense – which prevented Springfield from scoring on three trips inside the Bombers’ 20 in the second half, that made the difference.  As Springfield lined up to attempt a relatively short field goal, the Bombers came up with a block and turned away the Wildcats every time they threatened to take the lead to earn a shot at Pickerington Central.
Senior linebacker Matthew Devine had eight solo tackles and four assists, for 12 total tackles, and two sacks to lead the St. Xavier defense.  He was joined by juniors Sam Berkle (seven total tackles, including two for loss and a sack), Eli Kirk and Grant Lyons (six each), and senior Gio Albanese and junior Alex Kemper (five).
Pickerington Central – which is playing in its third state final in four years – defeated Elder, 21-14, in last year’s state final.  The Tigers won their first state football title in 2017, knocking off Mentor,56-28, in the final.  St. Xavier has not lost to a team from Oho this season, with its lone defeats to Indiana powers Brownsburg, 30-24, in overtime in the season opener and later to top-ranked Indianapolis Cathedral, 25-22.
Ironically, St. Xavier opened the 2011 season with consecutive victories against Springfield and Pickerington Central.  The Bombers knocked off Springfield, 40-7, at University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium as part of the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown and then trekked to Columbus to defeat Pickerington Central, 38-21, as part of the Kirk Herbstreit Football Classic.  The Bombers wound up 10-4 that season and made it to the state semifinals, where they lost to Pickerington Central, 14-7, in the last meeting between the two schools.
Local high school football fans had envisioned a La Salle-Winton Woods matchup in the Region 8 final and, when the seedings were announced, that would occur as long as the seedings held up – which they did rather easily for these two perennial powers.  La Salle racked up 375 yards of total offense against a strong Winton Woods defense, which had allowed just under 14 points a game.
For a La Salle team that has been saddled with its share of injuries to key players this season, one constant has been senior quarterback Zach Branam – who racked up impressive numbers again against Winton Woods.  Branam, who leads the GCL South in rushing, carried 27 times for 209 yards and four TDs, while also completing 9-of-13 passes for 108 yards and another score.  He helped the Lancers build a 21-3 lead at halftime after scoring a pair of rushing TDs and tossing a 17-yard TD pass to senior tight end Cole Schneider in the second quarter.
La Salle’s offensive line played well, as did the Lancers- defense that limited a fast and talented Winton Woods offense to just over 200 yards of total offense.  The Warriors scored a TD in the third quarter when three-year starting quarterback Mi’Chale Wingfield connected with junior receiver Antonio Turner Jr. on a 70-yard scoring play.  Winton Woods shared the Eastern Cincinnati Conference championship with Kings in its first season as a conference member.