SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio – St. Xavier football coach Steve Specht looked over to the Ballaban Field student sections and never saw anything quite like it Friday night.
Four full sections of students – the “Blue Monster” - supported the Bombers throughout Friday’s game and Specht, the head coach since 2004, made it a point to be sure his team thanked their classmates for the support.
Usually there are 2 ½ sections of students, but Friday night the were truly a “12th man” for St. Xavier.
The Bombers certainly held up their end of the bargain on the field.
St. Xavier defeated visiting Moeller 21-14 at sold-out St. Xavier Stadium in the Greater Catholic League South division opener for both teams.
When the Bombers sprinted toward Specht near the 40-yard line for the postgame huddle, the veteran coach, drenched with sweat, greeted them with a big smile.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am,” Specht said.
The St. X players, wearing their alternate gray jerseys, roared with approval.
Steve Specht addressing team in postgame pic.twitter.com/LqjPjDTY2W
— Mike Dyer (@MikeDyer) September 24, 2016
“We talk about the importance of following the process,” Specht said. “It may not be immediately; it may be in time. But, the important thing is they keep their nose to the grindstone. They keep the next-man-up attitude.”
With 10 players injured, St. X (3-2, 1-0 GCL South) hasn’t caved with the adversity. Two players played both ways Friday night – a rare occurrence for a St. X roster filled with depth.
“I tell them all the time, they play so hard,” Specht said. “We got to get smarter about certain things. Most of our guys across the board offensively and defensively have only played five varsity games.”
But, the Bombers didn’t allow inexperience to be an excuse. St. X defeated host Indianapolis Cathedral last week, ending a two-game skid against nationally-ranked opponents - St. John Bosco (Calif.) in the season opener at Nippert Stadium and an overtime home loss to Colerain.
Beating Moeller gave the Bombers an extra boost that they will compete for a GCL South title.
“It was a great atmosphere,” St. X junior wide receiver Cameron Specht said. “It was awesome. It means everything to win this game.”
St. Xavier senior quarterback Sean Clifford (Penn State commit) was 17 of 24 passing for 156 yards and a touchdown against the Crusaders. He said the atmosphere was something else.
“A big rivalry game well known across the country - there is really nothing better than getting this win,” Clifford said.
Moeller (3-2, 0-1 GCL South) committed three turnovers in the first quarter and St. X finally capitalized on the third. St. X senior Pete Rumpke returned an interception 61 yards. Two plays later, Clifford found senior Andrew Wittrock for a 14-yard touchdown pass connection to give the Bombers a 7-0 lead.
Wittrock caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Chase Wolf with 28 seconds left in the second quarter to give the Bombers a 14-0 lead at halftime.
“It was awesome,” Wittrock said. “I didn’t expect to catch (two touchdown passes)."
St. Xavier led 21-0 midway through the third quarter after Clifford’s 1-yard touchdown run completed a 6-play, 70-yard drive that took 2:52.
Moeller didn’t fold, though. Sophomore RJ Khayo had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to answer the Bombers’ touchdown. That was the longest kickoff return in school history, according to Moeller statistician Steve Albrinck. The previous record was Tony Jackson against Elder in 1984. Chris Woycke had 95 yards vs. Middletown in a 1990 playoff game.
Moeller senior quarterback Evan Ernst scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:24 left to close the gap to 21-14. Moeller had an opportunity late in the game with under two minutes. but senior Jake Buerkle’s interception sealed it for the Bombers.
Moeller, ranked No. 3 in the TriStateFootball.com Division I rankings, is ranked No. 13 in the AP Division I state poll.
Junior defensive lineman Aeneas Hawkins had 7 ½ tackles.
“We’re a good team that lost to a good team that didn’t make mistakes,” Moeller coach John Rodenberg said.
Moeller plays at La Salle at 7 p.m. Sept. 30.
St. X, ranked No. 7 in the TSF rankings, was led defensively by senior defensive back Carl Grimm with 8 ½ tackles.
St. Xavier plays at Elder at 7 p.m. Sept. 30.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
St. Xavier 7-7-7-0--21
X-Wittrock 14 pass from Clifford (Bruemmer kick)
X-Wittrock 16 pass from Wolf (Bruemmer kick)
X-Clifford 1 run (Bruemmer kick)
M-Khayo 98 kickoff return (Capano kick)
M-Ernst 1 run (Capano kick)
Records: X 3-2, 1-0 GCL South; M 3-2, 0-1
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