CINCINNATI — Zach Branam knew in the back of his mind that La Salle would likely go for a two-point conversion in double overtime Friday night.
The La Salle senior quarterback was primed for the moment and he delivered.
"He just never wavers on anything," La Salle coach Pat McLaughlin said.
The Lancers called a timeout after Branam threw a screen pass to junior running back Gi'Bran Payne for a 19-yard touchdown to pull La Salle within a point.
Branam could see everyone on the sideline signaling for the Lancers to go for the win on the road in that instance.
His quarterback keeper reached the end zone and gave La Salle a 53-52 win over Elder in double overtime.
"Zach is a great quarterback," Payne said. "Very underrated. Should be higher in everything. The best quarterback in Ohio."
McLaughlin had confidence that Branam or Payne would find an opportunity in crunch time.
"We have plays that we practice and we asked Zach on Thursday what do you want to run and that was the play we ran," McLaughlin said. "And it's either going to go to 'G' (Payne) or it's going to go to Zach, so put the ball in our two best guys' hands and see what happens."
La Salle, the No. 1-ranked Ohio team in the MaxPreps computer rankings and reigning Division II state champion, was given everything it could handle by Elder in the season opener.
"That's what you expect – a good ball game at The Pit," McLaughlin said. "Double-overtime thriller. I knew they were going to be a good team. They're going to win a bunch of football games this year."
The teams combined for 879 yards of total offense (La Salle 447, Elder 432).
"I've never been a part of a game like this," McLaughlin said.
Branam was 10 of 17 passing for 173 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 22 times for 185 yards and three touchdowns. He received the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown Mercy Health MVP honors for his effort.
"I just love this atmosphere," Branam said. "Playing like that and going for two at the end of the game, I mean, I love that. It's what you play for. It's what you play football for especially in the GCL. Especially getting to do that there and then get a dub – that means the world to me."
Payne rushed 10 times for 94 yards and a touchdown. That score early in the fourth quarter happened when he ran to the left and reversed direction to reach to the end zone.
He also had three receptions for 49 yards and two touchdowns.
"Every play astounds me," Branam said of Payne. "I'm like, 'What the heck can that guy not do?'"
La Salle senior tight end Cole Schnieder had three receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown also for the Lancers.
Defensively, senior linebacker Will Heffner led the Lancers with 12 tackles unofficially. Senior defensive back Jaymar Hargrove-Mundy had seven tackles.
La Salle (1-0) plays host to St. Xavier Sept. 4.
"We've got to clean a lot of things up; we've got to get better, and we will," McLaughlin said. "Opening up with such a big game and we haven't had any scrimmages and kind of a choppy offseason – I'm proud of our guys for battling to the end."
Elder, which led 14-0 late in the first quarter, was led by several players including junior Drew Ramsey, who accounted for four touchdowns (three rushing and one receiving). He had 73 yards receiving and 87 yards rushing.
Junior quarterback Ben Hambleton was 19 of 26 passing for 253 yards and three touchdowns in his varsity quarterback debut.
Elder senior wide receiver Scott Nieman had five receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns including a 16-yard score in double overtime.
Senior Cooper Johnson had 18 carries for 68 yards.
Elder coach Doug Ramsey was very encouraged by the effort of his team Friday night.
"We gave up a lot of points but we also lost our leader on defense (senior linebacker) in Joey Stemler, who only played a quarter, and then (junior defensive back) Bartley Thomas, our best cover guy," Ramsey said. "So we were down a couple really good players on defense. But still, we had chances."
Ramsey said he thought the offense was very effective and was proud of the effort in many facets despite the inexperience.
Elder (0-1) plays host to Floyd Central (Ind.) Sept. 4.
"In my mind you make the biggest jump from Week 1 to Week 2," Ramsey said. "If we do that – we've got to work and get better every day in practice – we can be a pretty good football team."