CINCINNATI, Ohio -
It wasn't the instant classic that Cincinnati high school football fans have come to expect in recent years, but the latest chapter of the St. Xavier-Colerain rivalry was telling nonetheless. St. Xavier (Cincinnati)
raced to a 21-0 lead – thanks to two first-quarter touchdown receptions by junior wideout Kevin Milligan
– and held off an injury-ravaged Colerain (Cincinnati)
squad 28-15 in the Ohio Division I regional semifinals at Nippert Stadium Saturday night.
"Offensively, I though we played well," St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said. "In the first half, we were able to throw the ball, run the ball and keep them off the field. Second half was a little different story. Third quarter, they owned it. But that's the way these games are – up and down, back and forth. You never know until the last snap."
This time, however, the last snap provided little suspense.
Colerain got on the board just before halftime with a 1-yard run touchdown by senior quarterback Dustin Smith
, but the Cardinals missed the extra point.
In the third quarter, Colerain controlled the ball for more than ten minutes, outgaining St. Xavier 120-3 in the process, but was unable to put any points on the board. Kevin Walker
capped a 20-play drive with a 25-yard field goal to pull Colerain within 21-9 early in the fourth, but the Cardinals would get no closer.
St. Xavier senior quarterback Griffin Dolle
found Hank Rumpke
for a 3-yard touchdown pass to give the Bombers a 28-9 advantage with 4:56 remaining. The rest was formality.
"I think we responded (after being down 21-0), but when you go into that type of hole against a team of that caliber that early, that's an uphill battle to fight," Colerain coach Tom Bolden said. "But our kids never quit – and that's just a testament to these seniors."
The turning point, both coaches agreed, was Milligan's second touchdown reception. The ball bounced off St. Xavier wideout Trey Kilgore
's shoulder and right to Milligan, who took it 61 yards to the house.
"I was supposed to be running down the field and distracting defenders, but I saw the ball thrown behind me and I thought, I'll go block for Trey," Milligan said. "Well, the ball bounced of his pads and, wow, it landed in my hands. I just grabbed it and went. I think it gave us a lot of momentum. We had the luck on our side tonight."
Maybe, maybe not.
St. Xavier and Colerain have combined to win three of the last seven Ohio Division I state titles, but the head-to-head match-ups, while almost always closely contested, have swung the Bombers' way in recent years.
Specht is 7-2 against Colerain and has seen his Bombers win four straight in the series.
"It can go either way," Specht said. "Tommy will tell you as well as I will – you're a good coach when you have great players, and we've both had some great players over the years."
With the win, Specht improved his career record to 80-20, including 16-4 in the postseason. Twelve of Specht's 20 career losses have been by five points or fewer.
Bolden, meanwhile, is 52-8 at Colerain, with seven of those losses coming to the Greater Catholic League South division, including five against St. Xavier. Colerain is 21-3 in the last two years with all three losses coming to St. Xavier.
While tonight's loss ousted Colerain from the playoffs, the one on Sept. 9 may have hurt even more. St. Xavier traveled to Colerain and won a down-to-the-wire thriller, 17-14.
It was Colerain's first home loss this century.
With its 61-game home winning streak snapped, Colerain certainly didn't enter the regional semifinal short on motivation. But personnel? That's another story.
Smith, who replaced junior quarterback Alfred Ramsby in Week 4, had 17 completions on the season entering Colerain's rematch against St. Xavier – and he almost equaled that in one night. Smith was 16-of-31 for 157 yards with one touchdown and one interception against St. Xavier. He also ran 10 times for 61 yards and a score.
"Our quarterback's 5-8, 150 pounds of pure determination," Bolden said. "And he kind of showed that tonight."
Colerain finishes 10-2 overall and 7-0 in the Greater Miami Conference.
St. Xavier (8-4, 2-1) has now won five of six heading into the regional finals with GCL-South rival Moeller, which dispatched Middletown, also of the GMC, 42-30.
St. Xavier fell to Moeller 27-24 in the regular season after trailing 27-10 late in the third quarter. Specht's game plan will likely include a steady diet of senior tailback Conor Hundley
, who has rushed for more than 3,000 yards over the last three years but is still nursing an injured ankle.
He still had pretty good numbers with 13 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown.
"It's been tough, but I've just got to battle through it," Hundley said.
for St. Xavier, Moeller can wait. The Bombers will enjoy tonight and
savor their latest win in what has become the most highly anticipated
rivalry in the city.
"I'll tell you, Tommy Bolden's the coach of the year," Specht said.
"With all the injuries he's had to deal with and all the adversity his
kids have faced – I was honored to play this game with Colerain
tonight." St. Xavier 28, Colerain 16
St. Xavier 14 7 0 7 - 28
Colerain 0 6 0 10 - 16First quarter
7:59 STX - Milligan, Kevin 10 yd pass from Dolle, Griffin (Roemer, Nick kick) 7-0
3:51 STX - Milligan 61 yd pass from Dolle (Roemer kick) 14-0Second quarter
7:59 STX - Hundley, Conor 1 yd run (Roemer kick) 21-0
00:16 COL - Smith, Dustin 1 yd run (Walker, Kevin kick failed) 21-6Fourth quarter
11:49 COL - Walker 35 yd field goal 21-9
4:56 STX - Rumpke, Hank 3 yd pass from Dolle (Roemer kick) 28-9
2:12 COL - Dulta, TJ 25 yd pass from Smith (Smith pass failed) 28-15 Moeller 42, Middletown 30 Archbishop Moeller (Cincinnati)
in the first of two Ohio Division I regional semifinals at Nippert Stadium on Nov. 12.
Moeller, seeded fourth in Region 4, got four touchdowns (three rush, one pass) from junior quarterback
, who threw eight times for 82 yards and rushed eight times for 40 yards.
Middletown quarterback Jalin Marshall
however, stole the show in defeat. The junior rushed 29 times for 296 yards – almost eclipsing Moller's rushing yards (304) by himself – and was 7-of-14 passing for 57 yards. He did throw two interceptions, but Marshall, one of most explosive players in the state, if not the country, dazzled throughout.
Middletown, which finishes 10-2 (6-1 in the GMC), has been ranked in the top five in the final state poll and been awarded the top playoff seed in Region 4 each of the last two years, but is only 1-2 in the postseason during that time.
Moeller, meanwhile, improves to 9-3 and advances to its first regional final since 2004, when it lost 34-6 to Colerain. Moeller last advanced to the state semifinals in 1997 and last won a state title in 1985.
Middletown beat Centerville 28-10 in the opening round, while Moeller beat Cincinnati Sycamore 31-21.
Moeller 42, Middletown 30
Moeller 13 8 14 7 - 42
Middletown 7 10 7 6 - 30First quarter
10:46 MOE - Morrissey, Garrett 4 yd run (Palopoli, Nick kick failed) 6-0
4:57 MID - Quinn, Cody 17 yd run (Green, Zach kick) 6-7
2:39 MOE - Burkhart, Brian 3 yd run (Palopoli kick) 13-7Second quarter
11:08 MID - Marshall, Jalin 50 yd run (Green kick) 13-14
3:21 MOE -Iacovone, Spencer 1 yd run (Iacovone rush) 21-14
0:00 MID - Green 31 yd field goal 21-17Third quarter
11:22 MID - Junior, EJ 6 yd run (Green kick) 21-24
09:07 MOE - Iacovone, Spencer 1 yd run 28-24
00:12 MOE - Madaris, Monty 43 yd pass from Iacavone (Palopoli kick) 35-24Fourth quarter
05:59 MID - Marshall, Jalin 7 yd run (Marshall rush failed) 35-30
01:28 MOE - Iacovone, Spencer 1 yd run (Palopoli kick) 42-30