CINCINNATI — The state Final Four week is here for three area Ohio high school football teams.
Elder (Division I), La Salle (Division II) and Wyoming (Division IV) hope to make a trip to Canton for the state finals Dec. 5-7 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Elder (11-2), ranked No. 22 nationally by MaxPreps, plays Springfield (12-1) in a Division I state semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday at Piqua’s Alexander Stadium. It is the first meeting between the two programs.
"It's really exciting to still be playing," Elder coach Doug Ramsey said. "I have enjoyed coaching this team this season and I'm thrilled to still be out on the field every day. Our approach is that it's the next opportunity in our season and you need to be at your best to make the most of it."
Elder had 413 yards of offense in a 28-21 win over Colerain in the regional final Nov. 22 at Mason.
Elder senior quarterback Matthew Luebbe was 23 of 30 passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed 29 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Senior tight end Joe Royer (Ohio State verbal commit) had six receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, senior safety Colton Sandhas had 10 tackles (nine solo) while senior defensive end Connor Keyes had nine tackles including three sacks. Senior defensive back Nicholas Seger had an interception.
“This has been a fun group to coach,” Ramsey said last week. “To know we get another week to coach them is exciting for us but you know, you see them – it’s been 10 years since we’ve been able to do this.”
Elder was ranked No. 9 in the season’s final Division I state media poll, while Springfield was No. 5.
Friday night will be Springfield’s first trip to the state semifinals. The Wildcats defeated Dublin Coffman 7-3 in the regional final last week.
"Springfield is a very talented team," Ramsey said.
Springfield is led by several players including sophomore quarterback Te’Sean Smoot, who has thrown for 2,290 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for 175 yards and six touchdowns.
Senior tailback Jeff Tolliver has 1,246 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns. Senior tailback Tay'Veon Smoot – Te’Sean’s cousin – has 803 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Larry Stephens (Toledo commit) has 51 receptions for 1,054 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Defensively, senior inside linebacker Xzerious Stinnett has 138 tackles, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
Elder or Springfield plays Mentor (13-0) or Pickerington Central (12-1) in the state final either Dec. 5 or Dec. 6.
In Division II, La Salle (11-2) plays Toledo Central Catholic (13-0) in a state semifinal Friday night at Sidney’s Memorial Stadium.
La Salle was ranked No. 6 in the season’s final Division II state poll, while Toledo Central Catholic was No. 2.
“They are a run-oriented team,” La Salle coach Pat McLaughlin said. “Their tailback is a great runner. We need to stop the run and be able to establish the run on offense.”
Friday night will be La Salle’s fourth trip to the state semifinals. The Lancers also played in the 2016, 2015 and 2014 Division II state semifinals – the same seasons they won state titles.
The Lancers defeated Harrison 45-8 last week in the regional final. La Salle had 289 yards of total offense including 234 yards on the ground.
Junior quarterback Zach Branam had eight carries for 104 yards and a touchdown. He was also 6 of 8 passing for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
"Every week we go into it with the same mentality that we are going to play the best team that we are going to play that week, which we are," Branam said. "That's the only team we are going to focus on. We really have hopes of making it to state this year."
Defensively, sophomore linebacker/running back Gi’Bran Payne had a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown among some of the highlights.
"For a sophomore as explosive as he is, he can make people miss," McLaughlin said. "He runs hard. He gets an interception. He is one of the most dynamic players I've ever been around."
Senior linebacker Luke Thiemann and junior linebacker Max Roberto-Bailey each had seven tackles.
Toledo Central Catholic defeated Lewis Center Olentangy 35-14 in the regional final last week. Senior running back Jonzell Norrils had 23 carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns, according to the Toledo Blade.
Norrils has rushed for 1,864 yards and 28 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Bishop Vargas has thrown for 1,408 yards and 19 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 499 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Toledo Central Catholic is led by sophomore linebacker Chris Jackson, who has 92 tackles including two sacks and a forced fumble. Senior linebacker Kendal Marshall has 79 tackles including five sacks along with two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Toledo Central Catholic will make its sixth trip to the state semifinals in the past eight years.
“The turnover battle will be very important,” McLaughlin said. “There are four great teams left and only one will get to end their journey the way they want. Our preparation and practice must be outstanding all week.”
La Salle or Toledo Central Catholic plays Massillon Washington (13-0) or Avon (13-0) in the state final Dec. 5 or Dec. 6.
In Division IV, Wyoming (13-0) plays Clyde (9-4) at 7 p.m. Saturday in a state semifinal at Marysville High School.
“Clyde is a very well-coached football team,” Wyoming coach Aaron Hancock said. “They are playing very good football right now. They played a difficult schedule and they will be prepared to face us on Saturday. They run the ball very effectively and play solid football in all three phases of the game. We want to continue to be efficient with the football offensively, play solid defense and special teams.”
Clyde is making its fifth trip to the state semifinals and its most recent appearance since 2013.
Clyde, the lone remaining No. 8 seed in the playoffs, defeated Ottawa-Glandorf 17-10 in the regional final last week.
Wyoming, the 2018 Division IV state champion, will make its sixth trip to the state semifinals.
Wyoming enters Saturday night with 28 consecutive wins. The Cowboys earned their sixth shutout of the season last weekend when Wyoming defeated Germantown Valley View 33-0 in a regional final at Princeton.
Senior quarterback Evan Prater (UC) threw for 112 yards and rushed 20 times for 129 yards and five touchdowns last week.
Defensively, senior linebacker Camden O’Gara had 10 tackles and an interception. Sophomore linebacker Jared Hancock – Aaron’s son – also had 10 tackles.
“My message is to continue to do what we do,” Aaron Hancock said. “Our program is focused on the process of preparing for our competition and controlling what we can control. We control our effort, attitude and our actions to be a great teammate. So our entire program – from scout team to starters – has that philosophy.”
Wyoming or Clyde plays Newark Licking Valley (13-0 entering) or Poland Seminary (11-2) in the state final Dec. 7.