CINCINNATI -- In the thick of high school football playoffs, it's never too late to forget the Tri-State's playoff powerhouse teams of the recent past.
Teams -- in Cincinnati and beyond -- take many different paths to get to the finals. Sometimes, a star player elevates his game to a level that can carry his brothers. For other teams, a band of seniors put their all into their final season. Also crucial are the coaches who can lead and motivate teams to a reach new heights as a cohesive unit.
In chronological order, here's a look at some of the most pertinent playoff runs of the last decade:
Anderson, 2007 Ohio Division II State Champion
The ’07 Anderson Redskins won with “lunch pail”-like efforts on a weekly basis. The gritty squad went 8-2 during the regular season. Their playoff road was extremely difficult, but they topped opponents from Kings, Carroll, Turpin, Ashland and Louisville to win the Ohio Division II State Championship -- the first football title in school history. Their tough-mindedness came from first-year head coach Jeff Giesting, who took the reins for the 2007 season after being the school’s long-time offensive coordinator. The Anderson players responded to their new leader in the post-season as they came up with clutch efforts week after week. The Anderson offense was led up by sophomore offensive tackle Andrew Norwell who now starts for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.
St. Xavier, 2007 Ohio Division I State Champions, undefeated season
The ’07 Bombers finished 15-0 and won all but two of those games by 14 points or more. St. Xavier was loaded with talent including junior Luke Kuechly, who is now one of the best linebackers in the NFL. The team was strong on offense and defense, averaging 30.1 points per contest but allowed opponents an average of only 9.1 points per game. What St. Xavier did (and against whom) for 15 weeks is truly one of the greatest team feats that has ever been accomplished in this town. In the playoffs, the Bombers gave up just 8.1 points in a contest and never allowed more than 14 in points in wins over Elder, Centerville, Colerain, Dublin Coffman and, finally, Mentor, whom they shutout 27-0 in the Division I title game.
Simon Kenton, 2008 Kentucky Class 6A Runner-Up
Sitting at 3-4 and heading nowhere, Simon Kenton head coach Jeff Marksberry decided to switch quarterbacks mid-season, replacing a senior with sophomore Chad Lawrence. The move -- controversial, no doubt -- changed the trajectory of the program, with effects still felt seven years later. The Pioneers would win seven games in a row with Lawrence under center and junior running back Miles Simpson carrying the load offensively. They found themselves in the state championship game versus a stacked Louisville Trinity squad. The Shamrocks were too much to handle and the curtain dropped on Simon Kenton’s magical campaign. The Pioneers got to the title game and become the first fourth-seed team to advance to the state finals at any level since 1995. Even though they didn't bring home a title, the 2008 team brought the school their first playoff win since 1993.
Winton Woods, 2009 Ohio Division II State Champions
Tax levy and funding troubles could have put a massive damper on Winton Woods’ 2009 season. But rather than succumb to worry, Winton Woods went on to win the Division II state championship with perseverance, style, class. The Warriors' playoff run that saw them outscore their five post-season foes by an average of five touchdowns per game. The explosive Winton Woods offense was reminiscent of Secretariat, impressively pulling away from the competition down the back stretch. Division II Offensive Player of the Year Dominique Brown and running back Jeremiah Goins paced a Warriors group that averaged 47.6 points in the post-season with all the hard worked culminating in a 42-12 victory over Maple Heights for the program’s first-ever state title. The team went 8-2 in the with losses coming from Moeller and Anderson for the FAVC Buckeye title. Winton Woods’ 633 points were the eighth most in Ohio history. They scored 10 touchdowns in a game twice, nine and eight each once.
Highlands, 2011 Kentucky Class 4A Champions, undefeated
Highlands ran the table going 15-0 and winning the Kentucky Class 4A state title. It was the Bluebirds’ fifth consecutive championship and the 21st in program history. The offense put up outrageous numbers as the team set state records for most points (849), touchdowns (119) and total offensive yards (7,517) in a season. Senior quarterback Patrick Towles (now playing for the Kentucky Wildcats) threw 42 touchdown passes and only one interception. During the regular season, Highlands scored 70 points or more three times and 60 or more on three occasions. They kept rolling it up in the playoffs, averaging 52.6 points in the five affairs. The Bluebirds' average margin of victory was 37.4 points with all their victories being by 21 points or more.
Holy Cross, 2011 Kentucky Class 2A Champions
Holy Cross had a championship run in 2011 that nobody saw coming. The Indians got through the regular season at 7-3 with losses to Conner, Beechwood and Newport Central Catholic. However, Holy Cross' victories were won by an explosive spread offense and an experienced, senior-laden defense. Everything began to click for Holy Cross after losing to NewCath in Week 9 for the Class 2A, District 6 crown. The Indians shutout Holmes and outscored Carroll County and Owen County by a combined 113-0. Working on three consecutive shutouts, the Indians found themselves in a round three rematch with NewCath, the defending Kentucky Class 2A state champion. Quarterback Kyle Fuller, who was also the team’s place kicker, booted a 32-yard field with just 10 seconds left in the game to give the Indians a historic 24-21 victory over the Thoroughbreds. Holy Cross had lost its eight previous games to NewCath, including three straight playoff meetings in that span. The win put Holy Cross in the state semifinals for the first time in the program’s history. After pulling off a second-half win against Somerset, the Indians faced undefeated Glasgow for the state finals. Glasgow came into the championship game a heavy favorite, but Holy Cross was not in awe; the Indians used a 26-point run to pull away from the Scotties 33-14 and grab the first state title in the 14-year of the program.
Cooper, 2012 Kentucky Class 5A Runner-Up
In just its fifth year of existence, the Cooper football program found itself playing in the Kentucky Class 5A state championship game. The Jaguars ran into perennial playoff powerhouse Bowling Green in front of its home crowd in the finale and came up short. The Jaguars were a bit overwhelmed being on the big stage for the first time and fell to Bowling Green 34-20. The four teams that the Jaguars beat in the post-season were a combined 38-7 before Cooper ended their campaigns. The Jaguars beat all of them by at least 10 points and scored 40 or more on three times. Cooper’s 13 wins on the season were one less than the program had combined for in its first four years.
Moeller, 2013 Ohio Division I State Champions, back-to-back titles
Moeller got “Ragland’s best” in ’13 as the quarterback led the Crusaders to a second consecutive victory at state. Senior quarterback Gus Ragland was simply unstoppable down the stretch, finishing with jaw-dropping performance in the state title game. As a junior, Ragland started at receiver for a Moeller team that won its first state championship since 1985. The Crusaders went 9-1 during the regular season in 2013 with the only defeat coming in Week 9 at St. Edward, 45-42. After winning the GCL South with a perfect conference record, the Crusaders had to beat St. Xavier and Elder in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The wins came in convincing fashion, winning by 25 and 24 points. At the regional finals versus GMC champ Colerain, Ragland’s seventh rushing touchdown of the post-season came at the end of the first quarter. That run gave Moeller a lead they would never relinquish. The following week, the Crusaders eked out a 13-11 win over Hilliard Davidson in a defensive struggle, which set the stage for an epic state finals battle with Mentor. Moeller defeated the Cardinals in the highest scoring state title game in Ohio history, 55-52. Ragland, who was named the Division I Ohio Co-Offensive Player of the Year earlier in the week, stole the show. Now playing for the Miami Redhawks, Ragland went 12-for-13 for 273 yards, threw for three touchdowns with 189 yards and five scores rushing. Over the five playoff games, Ragland amassed 1,591 yards of total offense (727 passing, 864 rushing) while accounting for 20 of the team’s 22 post-season touchdowns (14 rushing, six passing). The 2013 win was the ninth state title for Moeller and first time the program won back-to-back crowns since 1979-80.
La Salle, 2014 Ohio Division II State Champions
La Salle entered the 2014 season having lost seven games in a row, but they left hoisting a Division II state title trophy -- the first in school history. Heads turned during the season opener when La Salle shocked Colerain 40-21. It opened a flood gate to confidence as the team went 9-1, with a three-point loss to St. Xavier as the season's only blemish. A grueling regular-season slate that included victories over Moeller, Elder, Northwest, East Central and Winton Woods toughened the squad up for the playoffs. The Lancers had never won a playoff game, but changed history by beating Glen Este 48-28 in the first round. From there, the Lancers enjoyed pure post-season domination. La Salle buried its next four foes by 32, 32, 35 and 35 points. The potent offense was led by then-junior Jeremy Larkin, the Ohio Division II Offensive Player of the Year. Larkin was sensational, rushing for 1,037 yards and 15 touchdowns during the post-season. The Lancers averaged 47.0 points with an average margin of victory of 30.8 points in its five playoff tilts. La Salle set a record for points in a Division II state title game in the 55-20 win over previously unbeaten Nordonia.
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