Northwestern commit Keith Watkins spoiled an early Lakota East lead by rushing for three second quarter touchdowns, which sparked Moeller to a 46-20 win in the regional semifinals at University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium Saturday.
Watkins, who was named the Greater Catholic League South Athlete of the Year this fall, needed only four carries in that second frame to score on running plays of 17, 40 and 80 yards. Overall, the senior rushed for 159 yards in the quarter, averaging almost 40 yards per touch.
“The offensive line made some key blocks. They kind of knew what we were going to do a little bit, but our line blocked well. I love them to death,” Watkins said. “I mean they have blocked for me all year and I couldn’t do it without them.”
On his 80-yard scamper with a minute left in the second quarter, Moeller lined up with three running backs and no wide receivers. Watkins then took a handoff up the middle, cut to the Moeller sideline, raced to the middle of the field before scoring in the corner of the end zone by the Lakota East sideline – all in a total of 17 seconds.
“Coach called the play and he didn’t even want us to score because when I was running toward the sideline, he was telling me to run out of bounds,” Watkins said. “I was like, ‘I am going to try to get this one in,’ so I cut back and got a touchdown.”
In the second half, Moeller head coach John Rodenberg decided to keep Watkins out of the game. Instead he leaned on senior running back Joe Eramo and senior quarterback Specer lacovone, who combined to rush for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries just in the third quarter.
Eramo finished the game with 80 rushing yards on 13 carries, while lacovone had 95 rushing yards on 10 carries. As a team, Moeller rushed for 367 yards on 41 carries.
“The key was just being able to run the football and that is what we were able to do and the other thing was being disciplined on defense. We broke down a little bit, but for the most part we played their option good, ” Rodenberg said. “They are a good football team, they run that option well and I respect that quarterback a ton.”
The loss ends a surprising run for Thunderhawks, who qualified for the postseason for the first time in their 16-year history. Lakota East also won its first postseason game when it defeated Springboro 45-38 in overtime last Saturday and snapped a seven-game losing streak to rival Lakota West in the last week of the regular season.
“Obviously we are really proud of our kids. We just wish we would have played better at the end here, but our seniors did a great job and I thought they battled back and fought hard in the second half,” Lakota East head coach Rick Haynes said.
The loss also ends the high school career of 26 seniors.
“I hope when they look back they will be very, very proud of what they accomplished and not just focus on this one game,” Haynes said.
On this Saturday afternoon, things looked promising for Lakota East when junior quarterback Eric Eichler capped off a 14-play, 80-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run on the game’s opening possession.
The Crusaders answered Eichler’s score with a 40-yard field goal by senior Matt Reiniger. Then Watkins put his team on his back, finishing with 168 yards on seven carries.
“He does what he does,” Rodenberg said of his star running back. “He runs the football well and he got it going. He just does what he does. It was a great win.”
With the victory, Moeller ensures that a GCL South will play in the regional final for the 17th straight year.
LE – Eichler 3-yard run (Smith kick)
M – Reiniger 40-yard FG
M – Watkins 17-yard run (Reiniger kick)
M – Watkins 40-yard run (Reiniger kick)
M – Watkins 80-yard run (Reiniger kick)
M – Eramo 3-yard run (Gilles run)
M – lacovone 1-yard run (Reiniger kick)
LE – Palmore 10-yard run (Smith kick)
M – Ragland 5-yard run (Reiniger kick)
LE – Eichler 3-yard run (kick failed)