High School football in Southwest Ohio is often associated with a handful teams, which is why it is fitting that Moeller, Elder and Colerain and their combined 10 state championships will be playing in the regional semifinals this Saturday at Nippert Stadium at the University of Cincinnati.
No. 3 seed Moeller (8-3), who cruised to 43-21 victory over Wayne in the regional quarterfinals last Saturday, will kickoff the action at 2 p.m. against No. 7 seed Lakota East (8-3). Afterwards, No. 1 seed Colerain (11-0) will face No. 4 seed Elder (8-3) at 6 p.m.
Unlike the other teams, Moeller’s opponent – Lakota East – is in unfamiliar territory, as just last week the program knocked off the No. 2-seeded Springboro Panthers in its first-ever postseason appearance.
“Our kids want to go out and play well. Obviously, they are not intimidated,” Lakota East head coach Rick Haynes said. “I don’t think this game is going to be too big for them.
“Hopefully, they realize that this is just a football game against another high school.”
Unfortunately for the Thunderhawks, their opponent – Moeller – is hardly just another high school. The program actually leads Southwest Ohio with 31 postseason appearances and seven state titles.
And this year’s team also has star power and was ranked this preseason – No. 1 locally in The Cincinnati Enquirer’s coaches’ poll and No. 14 nationally in USA Today’s Super 25.
“They have really good players and they have a bunch of them,” Haynes said.
“They played a very tough schedule, are good on defense, very talented on offense and can score a lot of points. We are going to have to play very, very well just to compete.”
Pacing the Crusaders offense this season has been senior running back and Northwestern commit Keith Watkins, who has rushed for 1,592 yards and 20 touchdowns on 215 carries and has caught 30 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns.
“I really think Keith is one of the best running backs in the area, possibly in the state,” Moeller head coach John Rodenberg said. “He has really good speed, he has great moves, he is tough and he is not afraid to take the ball at people.”
Helping to pave the way for Watkins this season has been senior offensive lineman and Miami (Fla.) commit Alex Gall. On defense, Rodenberg said senior linebacker and Michigan State commit Shane Jones (100 total tackles, 2.5 sacks) is a “good leader” that keep his teammates “fired up.”
Jones and his defensive teammates will have the tough task of stopping the Thunderhawks rushing attack, which totaled 309 yards and three touchdowns on 44 carries in its 45-38 overtime win at Springboro last Saturday.
Leading East’s attack is led by senior Will Mahone, who has 1,156 yards and 16 touchdowns on 188 carries this season. His teammate, senior Chamada Palmore, has rushed for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries in the past two games after missing more than two games with a broken left knuckle.
“They are a team to be feared because they are playing good football right now,” Rodenberg said. “Obviously, their coach has them excited and playing as a team. Anytime you have that, you have to watch it.”