GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio – La Salle senior defensive back Da’Meak Brandon couldn’t quite remember how many people congratulated him late Friday night on the field at Lancer Stadium.
There were hugs, compliments and media interview requests. And plenty of smiles.
Brandon’s 35-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter helped the Lancers rally past visiting St. Xavier 17-14 Friday night in a Greater Catholic League South showdown.
— Mike Dyer (@MikeDyer) October 8, 2016
“It feels unbelievable,” said Lancers coach Jim Hilvert, who proudly held up the King of the Road trophy which represents both schools on North Bend Road.
“We talked about it all week. We are peaking at the right time. Last week was a big win (over Moeller) giving us confidence going into this week. The kids and the coaches did an unbelievable job.”
More than 7,000 people - including Bengals cornerback Adam Jones - attended the game, according to La Salle athletic director Keith Pantling. And nearly half of the La Salle seating section appeared to be on the field to celebrate late Friday night.
La Salle (5-2, 2-0 GCL South) clinched at least a share of the GCL South title. The Lancers still play at Elder in Week 10.
La Salle also snapped a five-game losing streak to St. X (4-3, 2-1 GCL South).
“After six long years of not beating them, this is one of the sweetest wins I’ve ever experienced,” said sophomore linebacker Brody Ingle, who had a game-high nine tackles.
The Bengals' Jones stood on the La Salle sideline for much of the second half. He offered congratulations to Brandon after his game-winning score. It was the second straight week Brandon had a pick six.
“I was just excited and happy I scored and happy we won,” Brandon said. “You got to play 48 minutes of football and that’s what we did.”
Hilvert was proud of Brandon and the entire secondary.
“He is getting better and better,” Hilvert said. “I believe he is one of the best corners in the state of Ohio.”
La Salle, the two-time reigning Division II state champion, never led until Brandon’s interception. The Bombers held a 14-3 lead late in the third quarter after senior quarterback Sean Clifford’s 7-yard touchdown run.
La Salle junior quarterback Griffin Merritt said the Lancers never doubted their resolve. The defense forced St. X into several second and third down situations in the fourth quarter.
“It was unbelievable,” said Merritt, who threw for 200 yards. “The support we had tonight and the big plays – it’s like a dream come true.”
St. X got on the board first when senior Quinn Earley scored on a 3-yard run with 2:47 left in the first quarter. That completed a 12-play, 61-yard drive that took 5:03.
The Lancers missed a field goal at the 9:35 mark of the second quarter but forced St. X to go three-and-out on its next drive.
La Salle then took advantage of great field position at its own 37. Merritt found junior 6-foot-7 tight end Josh Whyle for a 33-yard pass play down the sideline to put the ball at the Bombers’ 30-yard line.
The Lancers scored five plays later when senior kicker Paul Young made a 21-yard field goal at the 5:33 mark to make St. Xavier’s lead 7-3 at halftime.
— Keenan Singleton (@KJMSingleton) October 8, 2016
After Clifford scored in the third quarter, the Lancers sustained a long drive and senior TreSean Smith took a direct snap for a 1-yard touchdown run with 10:48 left in the fourth.
The Lancers attempted an onside kick and narrowly missed the recovery. La Salle also fumbled on the St. X 32-yard line with 5:32 left – its third fumble of the night and what seemed to be a dagger at the time for its chances to rally.
But, the Lancers quickly regained the momentum and took their first lead on Brandon’s interception three plays later.
“My heart has been racing since this morning,” Hilvert said. “I am on edge on game day. It’s been racing for the past two months. We’re hopefully peaking at the right time. We’re getting better and we need to keep getting better.”
St. X, ranked No. 4 in the MaxPreps Midwest Regional Computer Rankings, was third in the Division I, Region 4 computer points standings entering Friday night.
Despite the loss, the Bombers have already clinched a share of the GCL South title.
“I told the team I was proud of them,” St. X coach Steve Specht said.
The Bombers are projected to finish No. 4 in Region 4, according to longtime projections analyst Steve Shuck.
St. X plays host to Warren Central (Ind.) at 7 p.m. Oct. 14.
La Salle is fourth in the Division II, Region 8 computer points standings entering Friday night. The Lancers are projected to finish fourth, according to Shuck.
La Salle is ranked No. 19 by the MaxPreps Midwest Computer Rankings.
La Salle plays at Columbus St. Charles at 7 p.m. Oct. 14.
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SCORE BY QUARTERS
St. Xavier 7-0-7-0--14
La Salle 0-3-0-14—17
X-Earley 3 run (Rockwood kick)
L-Young 21 FG
X-Clifford 7 run (Rockwood kick)
L-TreSean Smith 1 run (Young kick)
L-Brandon 35 interception (Young kick)
Records: L 5-2 (2-0 GCL South), X 4-3 (2-1)