La Salle found itself trailing late in the second quarter, but the Lancers were not about to be denied their first outright GCL title.
TreSean Smith provided the lift, the defense pulled out all the stops and La Salle rallied for a 24-10 victory over Elder at The Pit Friday night. The Lancers hadn't won a league to call their own since the school's first season in 1962.
Trailing 10-7, the Lancers stormed back with a 17-0 run and denied Elder and St. Xavier a share of the GCL South crown.
— La Salle Lancers FB (@LS_LancersFB) October 29, 2016
TreSean Smith's TD run with 19 seconds left in the first half put La Salle (8-2) ahead 14-10, and the defense shut out the Panthers (6-4) over the last 2 1/2 quarters.
“That was a huge touchdown for us," La Salle head coach Jim Hilvert said. "TreSean Smith did an unbelievable job to get in the end zone and that gave us momentum to go into halftime and then we got the ball back and that was a huge thing to be able to set the tone in the second half.”
Smith rushed for two touchdowns on his only two carries, and Christian Turner ran for 150 yards on 23 attempts, the most yards on the ground he has had all season. Turner also supported quarterback Griffin Merritt in a big way, hauling in five catches for 133 yards and one touchdown. Turner finished the regular season with 45 catches for 628 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Christian Turner had a huge game for us catching the ball and running the ball,” Hilvert said. “He was lights out, a senior leader and captain, and we relied on him a lot.”
Merritt was 8 for 17 for 150 yards without an interception. On the season, Merritt completed 66 percent for 1,556 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.
The Lancer defense got to Elder quarterback Danny Nieman for six sacks. The constant pressure forced Nieman into a 9-of-20 night for only 56 yards and no touchdowns.
“We did a good job of tackling better in the second half and forcing second and third and longs,” Hilvert said. “We did some different blitzes and different stunts and stuff like that, got after the quarterback a little bit, and the defense played lights out in the second half. I was really happy for the kids.”
Defensive end Zach Rumpke and linebacker Ethan Campbell combined for three sacks.
“We put it together and I tried a couple moves I’ve never tried before and it ended up working pretty well for me,” Rumpke said. “It was breathtaking, making plays like this, and everybody cheering and knowing you did that is indescribable.”
LISTEN: The TriStateFootball crew chats with La Salle linebacker Ethan Campbell.
Holding their opponent to two scores is nothing new for La Salle. The Lancer defense has held opposing teams to just over 14 points per game on the season and 11.8 points during their last six outings.
Despite only totaling 129 yards of offense, Elder did damage on the ground. Running back TiAriq Dailey ran for 106 yards on 26 attempts his second-straight game rushing for over 100 yards.
Elder efensive back Zach Lyons and linebacker Lucas Downey both totaled eight tackles, and defensive end Spencer Bono had seven.
Lyons has been posting big number all season, finishing regular season play with 78 tackles and three interceptions.
Both teams are headed to the playoffs. The Lancers are the reigning two-time Ohio Division II state champions, and now look to three-peat.
“You take one game at a time, I think we have a chance," Hilvert said. "[We] can’t be complacent. Playing at home in the first round is definitely a big thing for us. We play really well at home. But one game at a time, win and advance.”