MASON, Ohio - Moeller quarterback Gus Ragland ran for four touchdowns and the Crusaders defense rose up in the second half to beat the Colerain Cardinals, 35-26, Saturday in the Division I Region 2 final at Mason High School.
Moeller (12-1) goes on to defend its state title against Hilliard Davidson (13-0) in the state semifinals at Dayton's Welcome Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday.
For the second straight year, Colerain (12-1) saw its undefeated season end at Moeller's hands two games short of the state finals.
Moeller used a 15-play, 92-yard drive in the fourth quarter that lasted over seven minutes to take a 35-20 lead with just over two minutes left in the game and solidify the win.
“The coach told us this was going to be the drive that was going to win us this game,” Ragland said.
Shut out in the second half to that point, Colerain answered quickly when Kelvin Cook found wide receiver Deshaunte Jones on a 9-yard TD pass with 50 seconds left, but the Cardinals failed to convert the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to one score.
The Moeller defense shut out Colerain for just over 23 minutes in the second half and held the Cardinals to only 136 total yards after allowing 305 yards in the first half.
“We made a little tweak here and there at halftime to help stop the option and some of the coverage we were playing,” Moeller head coach John Rodenberg said. “We played a little more sound on the dive play and on the quarterback.”
Ragland led the offensive charge for the Crusaders, running for 204 yards. A team that typically runs a balanced offense only threw eight times, but Rodenberg said he stuck with his normal game plan despite the windy conditions.
“We really can’t change anything because we have come this far doing what we do,” Rodenberg said. “Players have to understand they have to do what has gotten them here, and you would like to run the ball a little more, but you do what you do.”
Moeller opened the scoring on its second series, going 79 yards in only three plays. Ragland capped the drive with a 29-yard run.
Just 19 seconds later, Colerain's DeTaun Smith-Moore took a handoff 90 yards for the first of his three rushing touchdowns to tie the game.
Moeller answered on its next possession on a 2-yard run by Ragland. The Cardinals were forced to punt after just four plays and the Moeller offense extended its lead to 21-7 on a 17-yard run by wide receiver Jack Gruber.
With their backs against the wall, the Cardinals were able to score two Smith-Moore touchdowns on back-to-back possessions, but a missed extra point left the Cardinals down 21-20 at halftime.
Opening the second half, the Moeller defense took the momentum away. The Cardinals punted and Moeller went 67 yards on six plays, capped by Ragland's 1-yard touchdown.
The Crusaders were able to string together long drives, which held Colerain to only four possessions in the second half.
Cook led the Cardinals with 138 rushing yards and Smith-Moore added 130.
Colerain's loss should not take away from another undefeated regular season. The Cardinals have lost only two of their last 26 games.
“Another great Colerain football team,” Rodenberg said. “We just ended up on top again, but that is a heck of a football team.”