CINCINNATI —La Salle is going for its fourth straight state title, but some players in key roles were playing in their first playoff game ever Friday night.
One of them was Shane McNally.
“Seniors playing for the first time,” La Salle coach Pat McLaughlin said. “You never know what you’re going to get.”
McNally did all right.
He returned two interceptions for touchdowns. One turned the game around. The other was end zone to end zone — a school record.
If the Lancers are going to make it four straight in Division II, they’re going to ride their defense. They did just that in a 45-10 win over the Harrison Wildcats.
LaSalle’s defense is that good. The Lancers held Harrison to 7 yards rushing on 23 carries and forced five turnovers. That allowed the offense, which struggled with penalties and turnovers of its own in the first half, to come around.
“We knew they were going to click,” McNally said. “They’ve got a lot good ballplayers over there. It’s our job as defenders to get a stop and get the ball back to them."
McLaughlin, the third head coach in the Lancers' big run, wasn’t overly concerned with the 11 penalties for 105 yards.
“There was some nervousness,” McLaughlin said. “I’m not familiar with this (referee) crew. This was four or five guys all from different crews. I’m not saying they were or they weren’t. But it’s a football game. It’s high-energy. There’s a lot on the line. Our kids are playing hard."
It was ninth time this season the Lancers have held an opponent to 10 or fewer points.
McNally’s second interception came 2 or 3 yards deep in the end zone. Returns from the end zone are listed at 100 yards under Ohio rules.
“When they throw an out route and they leave it up there, that’s one of your dreams,” McNally said. “You see the field in front of you. Once you pick that off, that’s to the crib.”
The Lancers (9-2) pushed their perfect playoff record to 16-0. They move on to play Sidney (10-1), a 46-33 winner over Belmont.
La Salle and Harrison traded turnovers in the scoreless first quarter.
La Salle finally got going on an odd drive. It included 20 plays and three penalties - one that nullified a 15-yard touchdown run by freshman DeVonte Smith. But Griffin Merritt hit running back Cam Porter for 22 yards on second-and-22. On the next play, Merritt hit a wide-open Josh Whyle for 5 yards and the score. That made it 7-0 with 9:36 left in the half.
Harrison tied it on Frankie Young’s 11-yard pass to his brother CJ less than three minutes later.
La Salle pushed the lead to 10-7 on a Jake Seibert drive.
The play of the half came in the last minute. Harrison took over at its own 46 with 57 seconds to go. A play later, McNally made a nice running catch to pick off Young’s pass. McNally swung around to his left, got behind a wall of blockers and returned it 47 yards for the TD.
“(McNally’s) a kid who stepped up,” McLaughlin said. “He worked so hard in the offseason. He’s exceeded all expectations.”
The pick six made it 17-7 with 42 seconds to go.
That is one hard hill to climb against a three-time defending state champion on the road. That was probably why the Wildcats opened the half with an onside kick. LaSalle recovered. One play later, Porter took the direct snap and went 47 yards pretty much untouched for a TD.
It was 24-7, 43 seconds into the second half.
“We had 17 first downs in the first half,” McLaughlin said. “But we had a couple of penalties. We have some young kids playing. We got a few things to clean up. We’ll be ready next week.”