CINCINNATI – The La Salle and St. Xavier football programs did not disappoint in their respective state finals last week at Ohio Stadium.
Both Greater Catholic League South division teams created lifelong memories in the process of their second-half comebacks.
Let’s take a closer glimpse at nine memorable moments from this season for the North Bend Road neighbors in their journeys to Columbus:
La Salle defeated Massillon Perry 14-7 in a rematch of the 2015 Division II state final. The Lancers had to rally from a 7-0 halftime deficit to become the first team to win three consecutive Division II state titles. Senior safety/quarterback TreSean Smith (Louisville commit) and senior defensive lineman Ethan Campbell (Yale commit) spoke to the team at halftime. The inspiration worked. Smith rushed for two touchdowns in the second half to help lead the Lancers. …St. Xavier won its third state title in program history with a 27-20 double overtime win over Cleveland St. Ignatius in a Division I state final Friday night. Senior quarterback Sean Clifford threw two touchdown passes to junior Andrew Wittrock in the second half to help the Bombers rally from a 10-0 halftime deficit. Senior Kevin Rockwood tied a state finals record with two field goals.
St. Xavier’s state semifinal win
The Bombers rallied for a third consecutive week in the second half to defeat a Pickerington Central team that took down Southwest Ohio powerhouse Huber Heights Wayne the week before. The Tigers returned an interception 97 yards for a touchdown with 5:48 left in the third quarter to take a 21-20 lead on the Bombers in a game played at Piqua. But St. Xavier senior quarterback Sean Clifford scored on a 10-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Pickerington Central running back Morgan Ellison scored on a 60-yard touchdown run. St. Xavier kicker Kevin Rockwood kicked a 32-yard field goal with 2:38 left to lift the Bombers. It was his third field goal of the night.
La Salle’s narrow win over Edgewood
The Lancers started the postseason with a “wake-up call” as La Salle coach Jim Hilvert termed it. Facing a wing-T team, the Lancers trailed 14-13 with 6:03 left in the second quarter before scoring 10 points before halftime. Edgewood scored on a 25-yard pass at the 9:07 mark of the fourth quarter to close the gap to 23-21. The Lancers defeated Turpin 34-3 the following week in the regional semifinal at Lakota West. Turpin had been 11-0 and No. 2 in the Associated Press state poll entering that game. “We ran into a perennial power, a very special football team,” Turpin coach Rob Stoll said.
St. Xavier defeats Sycamore in classic
The Bombers played in their 12th regional final in program history and it was the first meeting against Sycamore since 2002. It was a memorable night on a unseasonably warm evening at Hamilton where the kickoff temperature was 70 degrees. Sycamore led 21-7 with 2:28 left in the third quarter. The St. X sideline looked stunned. But St. X quarterback Sean Clifford gave the offense a much-needed boost. After Sycamore standout running back Ra’Von Bonner scored on a school-record 99-yard touchdown run, Clifford scored on a 9-yard touchdown run with 2:11 left. St. X recovered the onside kick. Clifford then found junior Cameron Specht for a 34-yard touchdown pass connection tie the game. Clifford connected with Wittrock for a touchdown in overtime to lift the Bombers.
La Salle’s turning point
La Salle coach Jim Hilvert kept referring back to the Lancers’ 55-14 win over visiting Moeller Oct. 30 as the turning point of the season. The Lancers had lost two straight just a few weeks before and came home from Tennessee to defeat Winton Woods. But, the week after the Lancers took care of business at home and led the Crusaders 42-7 at halftime. La Salle junior quarterback Griffin Merritt was 17 of 22 passing for 388 yards and six touchdowns. It was the most points La Salle ever scored upon Moeller.
St. Xavier’s overtime win over Colerain
This regional semifinal at Hamilton won’t be forgotten anytime soon. The Bombers actually trailed 23-7 with 4:39 left in the third quarter against the state’s No. 1-ranked team. But defensive back Carl Grimm returned a punt for a touchdown late in the third quarter and Sean Clifford scored on a touchdown run in the fourth quarter to close the gap to 23-20. Kevin Rockwood tied the game with a 30-yard field with 6:03 left. Then, Clifford found Nicholas Moeller with a 20-yard touchdown pass in overtime to upset the Cardinals. This was the second overtime game this season after the Cardinals defeated host St. Xavier 20-14 Week 2.
St. Xavier wins Week 10 to make playoffs
The Bombers were 4-5 entering Week 10 and needed to defeat Louisville St. Xavier to make the playoffs. St. X had just lost three consecutive games earlier in the month including a crazy 19-18 loss to Warren Central on a 42-yard touchdown pass with no time remaining. The Bombers responded in a significant way with all the pressure in Week 10. St. X junior quarterback Chase Wolf was 31 of 41 for 242 yards and four touchdowns to lift the Bombers. Sophomore Jared Kreimer caught two of those touchdown passes. The Bombers qualified for the playoffs at the No. 5 seed and had to travel to Fairfield the first round. Wolf stepped up again and went 21 of 33 passing for 247 and four touchdowns in a 35-14 win over Fairfield.
The Lancers won the Greater Catholic League outright title for the first time in program history. It was a significant milestone for a program that dates to 1962. La Salle defeated host Elder 24-10 in Week 10 to clinch the outright title. Junior Griffin Merritt threw for 150 yards and a touchdown and senior running back Christian Turner rushed for 150 yards and caught five passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. “It was breathtaking, making plays like this, and everybody cheering and knowing you did that is indescribable,” La Salle defensive end Zach Rumpke said.