St. Xavier football team ready for state championship game Friday night

SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Cleveland St. Ignatius football coach Chuck Kyle has been around long enough to know when an opponent is on a roll.

St. Xavier is that team right now. The Bombers are just the second team in Ohio High School Athletic Association history with five losses to play in the state final. (The other was Columbus St. Francis DeSales in Division III in 2001).

With three consecutive comeback victories, no one is questioning whether the Bombers belong in Columbus.

And if you think the Wildcats’ 31-14 win over host St. Xavier in late October still means something, just listen to Kyle, who has won a state-record 11 state titles.

“I told the kids that Xavier is 5-0,” Kyle said. “We beat them weeks ago. Since that game they are 5-0. They are a hot team. We’re playing an opponent that’s certainly on a really nice progression.”

St. X defeated Louisville St. Xavier the following week and earned its eighth consecutive trip the postseason. Now, the Bombers are on the brink of the program's third state title.

St. X (9-5), ranked No. 21 nationally by the MaxPreps computer rankings, plays No. 8-ranked St. Ignatius (13-1) in the Division I state final at 8 p.m. Friday at Ohio Stadium.

It is the first time the Division I state final won’t be played on a Saturday since 1991.

St. X, who is 40-20 all-time in the playoffs, is in the state final for the first time since 2007 when the Bombers won their second title under coach Steve Specht. The Bombers are making their sixth state final appearance. St. X also won state in 2005.

“It’s been a heck of a ride,” Specht said. “It’s been a wonderful journey."

The Bombers played that October game without senior quarterback Sean Clifford and senior offensive lineman Zachary Kurz due to injury.

In the past three playoff games, Clifford has played lights out for the Bombers. The offense lifts the defense and vice versa.

"The morale of the other guys have gotten me to play the way I have," Clifford said.

He threw for 166 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Pickerington Central in the state semifinal.

“He’s just a really special talent and that’s why he is on his way to Penn State,” Specht said.

Clifford has had good protection from the offensive line and has multiple players help him move the ball.

Junior wide receiver Cameron Specht, Steve’s son, has 639 yards and three touchdowns. He is effective in the stretch running game and bubble screens.

Senior Micah Farrar (445 receiving yards), senior Nick Moeller (387 receiving yards) and senior Andrew Wittrock (537 yards receiving and seven touchdowns) are key to the offense.

Senior running back Quinn Earley has battled shoulder and knee injuries and has persevered like his other teammates. He rushed for a season-high 120 yards last week.

Earley said the Bombers are a different team from late October in the regular-season matchup with St. Ignatius.

"It's a dream come true honestly (to play in the state championship game)," Earley said. 

Defensively, the Bombers must neutralize the Wildcats’ run game and take away the play-action pass.

St. Ignatius isn't too bad itself. The Wildcats' only loss came to Detroit Catholic Central in overtime in mid-September.

St. Ignatius defeated Olentangy Liberty 24-14 in the state semifinal last week.

St. Ignatius quarterback Patrick Ryan has thrown for 1,763 yards and 16 touchdowns. He threw for a 44-yard touchdown to Travis Pot in the first quarter of the state semifinal. Ryan ran for another and rushed for 75 yards last week. Ryan threw for 225 yards and three touchdowns against the Bombers in October.

“If we can neutralize and take away the play action I think we have a chance,” Specht said.

Mark Bobinski is the Wildcats' leading rusher. He has 1,016 yards and 20 touchdowns. Pot has 30 receptions for 455 yards.

Defensively, Adam Shibley has 66 tackles including 3 1/2 sacks. Michael Chime has 73 tackles including six sacks for St. Ignatius.

The St. X defense continues to play well. Senior Carl Grimm (98 tackles), Brady Stoll (82 tackles including eight sacks), Pete Rumpke (76 tackles) and Jacob Buerkle (72 tackles) have been key.

Senior punter Joshua Glaser was very good in the state semifinal for the Bombers to take advantage of field position.

This game could very well be determined by field position in the second half. Both of these teams know each other well. They are scheduled to play against next regular season in late October.

Specht and Kyle are friends and know each other from coaching together in USA Football. The Wildcats are making their first state final appearance since 2011. There is plenty of familiarity among the Jesuit schools.

“It’s a very good challenge to play Xavier twice in one year,” Kyle said. “It will be an interesting challenge.” 

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