LOCKLAND, Ohio – After a narrow overtime loss in late September to defending Ohio Division 1 state champion Moeller, you couldn’t blame the St. Xavier Bombers if they felt confident going into Saturday’s rematch in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs against their GCL South rival. The Crusaders were without their senior quarterback Gus Ragland that night, but St Xavier was battle tested, and it was playing a team that it was familiar with.
But Ragland showed St Xavier what kind of difference maker he was all season, totaling a staggering 421 yards of total offense in leading Moeller to a 42-17 win Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd of 6,000 at Roettger Stadium in Lockland.
“I’m proud of our team, everyone is starting to step up,” said Ragland, who completed 10-of-13 passes for a season-high 264 yards and two TDs, and led the Crusaders’ rushing attack with 157 yards and three touchdowns, his third straight game with three scores.
Senior wide receiver Isaiah Gentry was his favorite target, hauling in five catches for a season-high 229 yards and two long touchdown receptions.
“Isaiah has got some wheels, and we try to unleash him every week,” said Moeller head coach John Rodenberg. “If you don’t cover him, he’ll make some plays, and if you double him- that leaves another guy open.”
After St Xavier (5-6) started with a three-and-out, Moeller struck quickly when Ragland hit Gentry in stride down the middle from 55 yards out just 89 seconds into the game to give the Crusaders a 7-0 lead. After the next Bombers’ drive stalled near midfield, St Xavier senior punter Trevor Bechtold’s punt was downed at the Moeller 1.
But the Crusaders’ offense was up to the task, driving 99-yards on nine-plays, capped when Ragland went in from 3-yards out to put Moeller up 14-0 with 3:36 left in the first quarter.
The Moeller defense forced a three-and-out, but St Xavier junior defensive back David Leisring gave the Bombers a boost near the end of the opening quarter when he picked off Ragland near midfield and returned it to the Moeller 26. Senior quarterback Nick Tensing took it in from the 1 to make it 14-7 with 11:57 left before halftime.
Ragland capped a 76-yard, 10-play drive when he took it in from the 1 to make it 21-7 with 8:30 left in the half. But the Bombers answered when Tensing found an open Peter Garvin from 15-yards out with 4:54 left to cut the deficit to 21-14.
Moeller (10-1) threatened to go up by two scores at the end of the half when senior wide receiver Jack Gruber led the ground attack all the way to the St Xavier 2. But Gruber was stopped at the goal line and fumbled, and Leisring recovered in the end zone. The Bombers ran the clock out and went into the locker room down with momentum, keeping the score at 21-14.
Moeller quickly seized it back after the break, when Ragland hit Gentry on the second play of the third quarter on a curl route, and then Gentry outran the St Xavier defensive backs for an 81-yard touchdown run to make it 28-14.
“He just gets by people,” said Ragland. “All I have to do is throw it up and he makes plays all the time.”
After trading punts, Tensing led the Bombers on another long drive, but it stalled at the Moeller 10. St Xavier didn’t come away empty handed, however, when Bechtold hit a 27-yard field goal with 3:18 left in the quarter to make it 28-17.
St Xavier seemed to be seizing momentum back when they forced a three-and-out on Moeller’s next drive and returned the ensuing punt to the Bombers’ 45. But Moeller senior defensive back Sam Hubbard made an athletic interception at the Crusaders’ 25 with 31 seconds left in the third. 75-yards later, Dean Meyer capped off a seven-play drive when he took it in from the 2 to give Moeller a 35-17 lead with 9:47 left in the game.
With the help of two pass interference penalties, St Xavier moved the ball to the Crusaders’ 35, but Hubbard picked off Tensing again, this time in the end zone, and returned it to the 24. Two plays later, Ragland iced the game when he went 72-yards up the middle to give Moeller a 42-17 lead with 6:35 left.
“Offensively, we didn’t change much,” said Rodenberg of Moeller’s halftime adjustments. “Defensively, we tried to bracket their receivers, we changed up coverage to zone, and that made a big difference.”
In addition to the big nights from Ragland, Gentry, and Hubbard, Moeller also got 135 yards on the ground from Sterling Noes, most coming on a fourth quarter run of 75-yards, and 54 yards from Gruber. Senior linebacker Will Mercurio added an interception.
“They’ve got some players that can do a lot of good things,” said St Xavier head coach Steve Specht. “You roll the dice, pack the box, leave them one on one on the outside, and they took advantage of those things. I thought our kids battled hard in the first half, the wheels came off in the second half, the turnovers killed us. But, hey, they’re a good football team.”
Tensing closed out his high school career with 18-of-43 through the air for 193 yards and a touchdown, but had three second-half interceptions. Senior running back C.J. Hilliard rushed for a season high 91 yards on 19 carries, while senior wide receiver Joey Arbino led the receiving effort with 81 yards on seven catches.
Moeller will attempt to take the second step toward defending its state crown against another GCL South rival, Elder, on Saturday at UC's Nippert Stadium. Moeller beat the Panthers on October 11th 35-14 at The Pit.
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