GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- A different head coach, several new starters and a new synthetic field were signs that football returned to Lancer Stadium.
What didn't change was the Lancers' winning ways.
La Salle's defense proved to be the storyline of the season opener in a 7-3 win over Colerain in front of 8,100 on a picturesque Friday night at Lancer Stadium. The game was part of the 20th annual Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown.
"It was a good win," said Pat McLaughlin, who coached his first game at La Salle. "I like to say it was a team win, but the defense really played. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We knew Colerain's defense was good. But our defense really stepped up."
Your @xtownshowdown LS vs Colerain MVP @jarreduran__ ! #PutInTheWork #STATEment17 pic.twitter.com/6u3nQMralK
— La Salle Football (@LS_LancerFB) August 26, 2017
La Salle, the reigning three-time Division II state champion, won its 12th consecutive game dating back to late September 2016. Many of the household names of the past three state titles have graduated, but the Lancers answered a significant challenge from a neighborhood rival less than four miles away.
PHOTO GALLERY: La Salle 7, Colerain 3
The Lancers welcomed McLaughlin, who came to the program from Princeton and after former coach Jim Hilvert left for Baldwin-Wallace University. It was also the first football game on the new Buddy LaRosa Field, which was dedicated in June.
Thousands of Colerain and La Salle supporters showed up early at Lancer Stadium. That atmosphere impacted the intensity of the game early in the first quarter.
"Our defense was super big bringing the energy and having the fans get into it," said La Salle junior linebacker Jarred Uran. "I feel like we are going to go a long way."
Urran earned the Showdown team MVP honors with a game-high 12 ½ tackles (nine solo). In a game where field position was so significant, Uran made a key tackle on Colerain's fake punt attempt late in the second quarter to give the Lancers' possession.
"I'll you what," McLaughlin said, "Jarred doesn't have a scholarship yet, but if a college coach gets ahold of this, they ought to offer him a scholarship tonight. I don't know where he could play or what position, but he was one of the best players on the field tonight. So he can play for my team any day."
The game saw 14 punts, including eight in the scoreless first half. The Lancers' offense stalled on its first drive of the third quarter, but a key punt by junior Drew Nieman pinned the Cardinals at their own 2.
After Colerain struggled to get the ball to the 4 and punted, the Lancers took advantage. They completed a nine-play, 45-yard drive with senior Griffin Merritt finding senior tight end/wide receiver Josh Whyle in the back of the end zone for the only touchdown of the night.
The place erupted after the @G_Merritt10 TD pass.
— Jake Ryle
(@JakeWCPO) August 26, 2017
"It was just a great atmosphere," said Whyle, a University of Cincinnati verbal commit.
Whyle had four receptions for 30 yards. Merritt was 13 of 23 passing for 69 yards. Sophomore Cameron Porter rushed for 66 net yards.
Colerain answered late in the third quarter when junior Chris Mangold made a 29-yard field goal that completed an eight-play, 41-yard drive.
The teams traded punts early in the fourth quarter and a Colerain fumble gave the Lancers the ball at the 3:19 mark. However, Colerain senior linebacker Dan Bolden sacked Merritt on third down and the Lancers had to punt.
Another nice tackle by Uran on special teams forced Colerain to start from its own 7. Colerain connected on a 34-yard pass on third down, but a lateral was fumbled with under 30 seconds and La Salle senior defensive back Shane McNally recovered.
Colerain was without senior quarterback Gunnar Leyendecker in the second half due to a shoulder injury, according to Colerain coach Tom Bolden.
Senior Deante Smith-Moore filled in at quarterback and moved the offense nicely midway through the third quarter to set up the field goal.
Bolden was very pleased with the defense but said he wants to correct the offensive mistakes.
"You got to own it – we didn't play well enough to win," Bolden said.
Dan Bolden, the coach's nephew, finished with seven tackles.
FINAL: LaSalle 7, Colerain 3. @WCPO pic.twitter.com/FP7DRq7pQN
— Jake Ryle (@JakeWCPO) August 26, 2017
Colerain (0-1) plays host to St. Xavier Sept. 1. La Salle (1-0) plays at East Central (1-1).
Friday was the first of a home-and-home series between Colerain and La Salle. The 2018 game will be played at Colerain.
La Salle holds a 3-1 series advantage since the rivalry resumed in 2014. Colerain leads the all-time series, 12-11.
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