MASON, Ohio — Until three years ago, La Salle had never won a playoff game. Friday night, the Lancers won their 13th in a row.
La Salle crushed Miamisburg 45-14 at Mason’s Dwire Field to win the Division II regional final. The victory put La Salle two wins away from its third consecutive state title.
“If we can keep capitalizing and keep on getting better as the year goes on, wow, I really like our football team,” La Salle coach Jim Hilvert said. “If we can execute and do the things we did tonight, I like our chances."
La Salle's opponent in the state semifinals won’t be released until Sunday.
Griffin Merritt threw for a pair of touchdowns, and Jarell White ran for two TDs. White and Da'Meak Brandon made sensational plays in the return game. The Lancers scored on their first seven drives.
La Salle (11-2) has won nine straight. The Lancers have outscored their opponents 79-17 the last two weeks after barely surviving the first round, beating Edgewood 23-21.
“That was a wakeup call,” Hilvert said. "People said this and that. Our guys came out the following week and made a statement (in a 34-3 win over Turpin). Came out this week, everybody kept talking about 'Miamisburg's a great football team,' and we made a statement.”
Merritt completed seven of 10 passes for 154 yards. Josh Whyle had three catches for 103 yards. White had 62 yards on six carries.
“The people upfront, they did their job all night,” Merritt said. “They took care of me in pass protection. They made great holes for our running backs. It’s nice when I’m back in the pocket and I have those athletes making plays. It all came together today.”
La Salle set the tone on the first play. Merritt hit tight end Whyle for 28 yards. Whyle made a leaping, twisting catch to beat tight coverage.
“That’s something we’ve been working on all week,” Merritt said. “That was a formation we liked. It’s a great way to spark the game.”
Merritt ran for 11 yards on the next play. It wasn’t as easy the rest of the way. The Lancers needed to convert a fourth-and-3 to keep the drive alive. White took it the last 15 yards for the touchdown on his first carry of the night. White kept driving even when it looked like Miamisburg had him wrapped up.
The drive went 80 yards and nine plays in three minutes and 22 seconds.
Brandon picked off a Tate Vongsy pass on the Vikings' ensuing drive and returned it 32 yards to the Miamisburg 18. The Lancers could not get anything going. Paul Young, however, drilled a 34-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 5:10 left in the quarter.
The next time Brandon touched the ball he left no chance for the offense to stall. He fielded Colin Dillion’s punt at the 17, cut toward the right sideline, made two tacklers miss and then outran everyone. Young’s kick made it 17-0 with 3:10 to go in the first quarter.
“After I made the first move, I knew I was in the clear,” Brandon said.
"Special teams: We talked about it on Monday,” Hilvert said. “(Miamisburg) won a couple games on special teams. Special teams are going to be huge, and what happened. Da'Meak Brandon punt return — that's a huge play, huge momentum.”
Miamisburg showed some life after that. They drove the length of the field before Vongsy hit Tyler Johnson on fourth-and-3 for the TD.
The Vikings’ joy was short-lived. White returned the kickoff 51 yards to the Miamisburg 28. On the next play, Merritt avoided the rush, stepped up and heaved the ball into the end zone. Whyle made a sensational diving catch, and it was 24-7 with 8:07 still left in the half.
Merritt hit a wide-open Joey Stacy for 27 yards and the score on the next drive. That made 31-7.
That’s how the half ended.
TreSean Smith ran it in from eight yards out on La Salle’s first drive of the second half. Young’s kick made it 38-7, and that meant the game went to a running clock.
The game turned ugly late. A fight broke out. That led to a flag. Miamisburg coach Steve Channel came on the field to argue. That led to a flurry of flags — five were on the field by the time both teams were sent to the sidelines.
Calm was restored and La Salle finished the game with its backups on the field.
Anything short of a state title will be a disappointment for La Salle. But Hilvert thinks his team is up to it.
“No one knows the size of a heart of a champion and these guys have the heart of a champion,” Hilvert said. “Our football team played, I thought, a complete football game. I think we're peaking at the right time.”