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St. Xavier, Sycamore provide intriguing matchup in Division I regional final

Low seeds weren't expected to get this far
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Posted at 7:18 AM, Nov 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-18 07:19:23-05

It's an intriguing matchup of two Cincinnati Division I teams that haven't met since 2002. If you only look at their seedings - Sycamore is seventh, St. Xavier is fifth - you say, "How did they get to the regional final?"

Sycamore has never gotten this far in the Ohio football playoffs. But the Aviators knocked off No. 2 Lebanon and No. 3 Mason.

St. Xavier, on the other hand, is no stranger to the bright lights of the post-season. No. 5 St. X is coming off of an overtime upset of the state’s top ranked team in Colerain, 29-23, and is looking to capture its third state title in school history.  The  Bombers ousted No. 4 Fairfield in the first round.

The winner will claim bragging rights as the top Division I team in Cincinnati and go on to face the winner of Wayne and Pickerington Central in the state semifinals.

No. 7 SYCAMORE AVIATORS (8-4) vs. No. 5 ST. XAVIER BOMBERS (7-5)
Kickoff: Friday, 7:30 p.m. – Hamilton Virgil M. Schwarm Stadium
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PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior running back Ra’Von Bonner continues to dominate for Sycamore. He carried the ball 38 times for 174 yards and two touchdowns last week against Mason, and also had a 61-yard kickoff return. Bonner has over 2,100 rushing yards on the season, and was recently named Offensive Player of the Year on the  Division I AP Southwest District team. Christian Kelly, Aves DB, has two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a fumble return for a touchdown in Sycamore’s two playoff games. He will try to lock down the pass heavy Xavier offense. Senior QB Jake Borman is looking to bounce back after a disappointing game against Mason. He was held to just 36 passing yards and an interception last week after averaging over 140 yards per game. Borman was also named to the Division I AP Southwest District first team, and if Sycamore wants to win, he’ll need to play like a first-teamer.

St. X QB Sean Clifford played well off the bench against a top rated Colerain defense last week. The Penn State commit went 10 of 21 for 131 passing yards and a touchdown, while also running for a touchdown with 87 rushing yards on 22 carries. His performance came just a week after QB Chase Wolf’s big game against Fairfield, where he went 21 of 33 with 257 passing yards and four touchdowns. Both QBs  have combined to throw for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season. No matter who is under center, St. X will need a big game through the air  in order to get the ball to their talented receiving core. Carl Grimm is leading a prolific Bomber defense into this game. He totaled 10 tackles last week, and sparked the fourth-quarter comeback with a blocked punt return for a touchdown. He leads St. X with 86 tackles on the season.

TEAM TRENDS: After starting the season 2-4, Sycamore is on a six-game win streak while holding opponents to an average of 12.2 points per game. Bonner is averaging nearly 209 yards during that streak. In their last game, the Sycamore defense held Mason to just 90 yards of total offense, which included holding RB Matt Sora, who was averaging 111 rushing yards per game, to just 42 yards on the ground. 

St. Xavier has scored at least 28 points in three straight games. In their first playoff game against Fairfield, their defense gave up just 201 yards. Last week against Colerain, they allowed more than double that - 405 yards. However, the Bombers are still +4 in turnover margin this postseason. Their defense will need to step up if they want to move on in the playoffs.

SYCAMORE KEYS TO VICTORY: Put pressure on the Bomber O-line. Sycamore has just three sacks in the postseason. If they can do a better job of putting pressure on the St. X quarterbacks, they could take out the Bombers' biggest weapon. Also, if their corners can keep the receivers locked down, it would provide more time for the D-line to get there. On offense, Bonner has been a stud. There’s no other way to put it. If the ball is in his hands, you have a great chance to win. Open up some running room and let the kid run free and make some big plays.

ST. XAVIER KEYS TO VICTORY: Stop Ra’Von and air it out. Last week against Colerain, the Bombers faced another gritty back in Monalo Caldwell. They allowed him to rush for 127 yards on 21 carries. Bonner touched the ball 38 times last week against Mason. The entire Aves offense revolves around Bonner, so if you can stop him, you win the game. On offense, QBs Wolf and Clifford need to make big plays. Clifford found receiver Nicholas Moeller on a 20-yard TD pass in overtime to end the game last week. No team has been able to find an answer recently to stop the QB tandem, so if they can continue to play well, they should win the game.

Prediction: St. Xavier 24, Sycamore 21.