It only seems fitting that the two best defenses in Southwest Ohio will duke it out for the Division I, Region 2 championship Saturday night.
The Colerain-Wayne game will be full of big hits as they battle for a trip to Columbus and a chance to win the state title. The challenge won’t be easy for either defense as both teams have shown that their respected offenses can put points on the board in a hurry.
This affair has all the makings of a real nail-biter. The team that has the ball last will in all likelihood be in the position to win the game.
Wayne beat Moeller in the regional final a year ago on a thriller that saw five lead changes, including the Warriors' game-winning score with 87 seconds left. The Warriors will look to use that experience to their advantage in their quest for the program's first state championship. The Cardinals are determined to end the programs regional title drought that has lasted since 2006 and pick up the school's second state crown.
WAYNE WARRIORS (13-0) vs. COLERAIN CARDINALS (12-1)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Saturday at Atrium Stadium, Dwire Field (Mason HS)
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PLAYERS TO WATCH: Wayne has tremendous and versatile talent at the skill positions. Darryl McCleskey has 1,406 all-purpose yards (727 receiving, 422 rushing, 257 returns) with 15 touchdowns (nine rushing) on 84 touches. The senior also has 28 tackles and three takeaways on defense. Matt Wilcox, a junior, has run for 912 yards with 138 receptions for 1,918 yards and 32 total touchdowns (20 receiving, 12 rushing). He is a finisher. Sophomore L’Christian “Blue” Smith-Cochran might just be the best of the bunch. The 6-foot-4, 205 pound receiver has 50 catches for 1,118 yards and averages 23.8 yards per reception while finding the end zone 16 times. Michigan State-bound quarterback Messiah DeWeaver is 14-3 as a starter in the playoffs. DeWeaver has 29 touchdown passes and only two interceptions.
The Warriors love to bring the pressure on defense. Wayne has 40 sacks on the year. Sophomore Alex Riegelsperger has a team high 9.5 takedowns while senior Mikal Tolliver is right behind him with nine. Those sacks have led to six defensive scores off of 23 forced turnovers. Team leader Tobias Gilliam was named the Division I Southwest District defensive player of the year.
Colerain counters with Deshaunte Jones, the Division I Southwest District offensive player of the year. Jones has completed just three passes in Colerain’s three playoff wins but has run for 569 yards, averaging 13.8 yards per carry with nine touchdowns. On the season Jones has run for 1,786 yards and 28 touchdowns. Junior running back Monalo Caldwell ran for a career high 222 yards and three scores in last Saturday night’s win over Elder. Caldwell has 1,276 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground.
The Colerain defense is loaded with college talent and the best of it may be in its underclassmen. Junior defensive backs Amir Riep, Keontae Jones, linebackers Kyle Bolden, Ryan Davis and lineman Howard Watkins along with sophomore Danny Bolden will all play at the next level. Riep leads the Cardinals with nine takeaways including seven interceptions. Colerain has held 11 opponents to 16 points or less.
TEAM TRENDS: The Wayne offense has been explosive the last five weeks. The Warriors are averaging 46.4 points in that span against teams that finished the year combined 40-11 sans the loss to Wayne.
Colerain has cranked it up in the post-season. The Cardinals have an average victory margin of 34.7 points in the playoffs. The defense has held the opposition to 10.7 points. Those victims were Dublin Coffman, St. Xavier and Elder. The offense has been equally impressive versus those foes, averaging 473 yards, 10.3 per carry with 19 touchdowns on the ground.
WAYNE’S KEYS TO VICTORY: Odds favor the Warriors if this is a close game going down to the wire, having been in that position last year. Wayne wants to avoid getting down by more than 10 points versus the Colerain “quick score” offense. All season long the Warriors have dictated the pace, and falling behind will put them in a precarious position that they have not been to this point.
COLERAIN’S KEYS TO VICTORY: The Cardinals' backfield has to pick up the blitz. If they make their blocks against an aggressive Wayne defense it could lead to a huge evening running the football. On defense, this will be a real test for the Colerain secondary. Wayne’s long and lanky Smith-Cochran is a problem as a red zone and deep threat. Riep and company can give the Cardinals a big boost by keeping the Warriors star and his teammates in front of them. Not giving up the big play in the passing game is going to force Wayne out of its comfort level by having to run the ball in order to win.
Prediction: Colerain 21, Wayne 20