August 20, 2008

GOW: St. Xavier vs. Colerain


Radio: Steve Specht | Head-to-Head Breakdown

What has become known as "The Game of the Year" for Greater Cincinnati-area prep football fans is arriving early this fall.

Perennial powerhouses Cincinnati St. Xavier and Colerain collide in a season-opener on Friday, Aug. 22 at 8:15 p.m. at University of Cincinnati Nippert Stadium as part of the annual Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown. Expectations are high and the pre-game hype is as big as ever.

The defending Ohio Division I state champion Bombers enter the contest with a preseason national ranking of No. 7 in the Rivals High 100 and No. 1 in the Great Lakes Region. The Cardinals are ranked No. 29 nationally and No. 2 in the region. Both teams top the Ohio Division I QueenCityHigh.com Preseason Rankings (Tri-State area rankings).

These two non-league teams have developed quite a rivalry over the past three years playing four times with St. X holding a 3-1 edge. The Bombers of the Greater Catholic League defeated Colerain of the Greater Miami Conference 29-14 in the regional finals last year en route to winning their second state title in three years. In '06 the Cardinals thumped the Bombers 24-7 in a regional final contest to advance to the state semifinals where they lost to eventual state champion Hilliard Davidson. In 2005 the teams played twice, with St. Xavier winning a season-opening battle 7-0 and a 12-9 overtime thriller in the regional semifinals as they went on to win their first-ever state title over Massillon.

"It is a great rivalry," says Colerain head coach Tom Bolden. "You have two great football programs and two great coaching staffs. There is a little bit of that public school vs. private school thing going on that feeds the fire. Both communities are really involved with the programs. It just makes for some great football."

Adds St. Xavier head coach Steve Specht: "It's an unbelievable rivalry that people have pointed to and we haven't disappointed. It's exciting for the city and for the Colerain and St. Xavier communities. The fact that we're willing to play each other in a season opener just shows how much respect we have for each other and for the competition."

History, however, will not be much of an indicator this time around because both programs are in major rebuilding mode with eighteen the key number for both schools as in 18 starters who have to be replaced. Question marks abound for both teams.

The entire Colerain backfield will be making their first varsity start including junior quarterback Greg Taber. Senior offensive lineman Brandon White will provide a steadying influence. Linebackers Colin Lozier and Tyon Dixon will anchor the defense. Bolden says this year's Cardinals will be athletic and that team speed will be a major asset on both sides of the ball.

"I feel really good and excited to just finally get on the field and play but there is an air of uncertainty," admits Bolden. "I'm really eager to see how they (team) react. It's going to be a great challenge but we'll find out what we're made of and it will be a good measuring stick."

St. Xavier is not only dealing with the inexperience factor but it also fighting the injury bug. Specht says junior quarterback Luke Massa is questionable for Friday night and his playing status will be a game-time decision. Seniors Joe O'Toole and Sam Male will fill in for Massa if necessary. Mathew James, a 6-foot-7, 275-pound junior who is a major Division I prospect, is out for at least three weeks which is bad news for a line that will have five new faces in the starting lineup. Defensively the Bombers have two senior stars back in defensive end Patrick Muldoon and linebacker Luke Kuechly.

"This game is going to let us know right away where we and what we have to work on," says Specht. "We have a lot of kids who are really excited to play. We're not really going to know much until we get out on the field and just let it rip. I know it's going to be an interesting Friday night for the both of us."

GAME OF THE WEEK: ST. XAVIER VS. COLERAIN

ST. XAVIER RUN OFFENSE VS. COLERAIN RUN DEFENSE

EDGE
Colerain Cardinals

Senior tailback Nevin Heard and senior fullback Connor Earley will try to fill the shoes of graduated all-state running back Darius Ashley. Five new linemen are still trying to get acclimated to the speed of the varsity game and Mathew James will not play. The Colerain defense is athletic and fast.

ST. XAVIER PASS OFFENSE VS. COLERAIN PASS DEFENSE

EDGE
St. Xavier Bombers

Junior quarterback Luke Massa passed for over 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games last season. His health is the biggest question at the moment. Ian Cummings and Drew Grombala is a talented pair of wide receivers. The always-tough Colerain defense should be strongest at linebacker with senior Colin Lozier and junior Tyon Dixon but inexperienced in the secondary.

COLERAIN RUN OFFENSE VS. ST. XAVIER RUN DEFENSE

EDGE
St. Xavier Bombers

The Cardinals are breaking in an entirely new backfield that combined is making their first-ever varsity start. Their triple-option offense needs to be a finely tuned machine in order to work properly or turnovers could be an issue. St. Xavier typically excels on defense and especially against the run.

COLERAIN PASS OFFENSE VS. ST. XAVIER PASS DEFENSE

EDGE
St. Xavier Bombers

Greg Taber is a new quarterback making his first career start on a big stage which is not the best set of circumstances. The Cardinals do not typically pass much although they did show more of a propensity to throw the ball last year under Bolden. The Bombers are high on free safety Justinian Mason who should be a standout in the secondary.

ST. XAVIER SPECIAL TEAMS VS. COLERAIN SPECIAL TEAMS

EVEN

Both teams have to replace all-league kickers so this is a toss-up. Turnovers could play a big part in the return game.

ST. XAVIER COACHES VS. COLERAIN COACHES

EDGE
St. Xavier Bombers

Steve Specht is 51-3 after three seasons at the helm of St. Xavier with two state titles. Tom Bolden replaced the legendary Kerry Coombs last season with flying colors, posting a record of 12-1 and getting the Cardinals to the regional finals.

ST. XAVIER WILL WIN IF...

The Bombers' defense can clamp down on an inexperienced Colerain offense and muster enough offense and points of its own.

COLERAIN WILL WIN IF...

The triple option offense is hitting on all cylinders and the defense can shut down Luke Massa if he suits up to play.

X-FACTOR

Whether or not St. Xavier quarterback Luke Massa can play. With Massa, St. Xavier is a much more potent team on offense. Without him and top lineman Mathew James in the line-up it means that the Bombers will be playing 11 new starters.

NOTES

Whether or not St. Xavier quarterback Luke Massa can play. With Massa, St. Xavier is a much more potent team on offense. Without him and top lineman Mathew James in the line-up it means that the Bombers will be playing 11 new starters.

THE PICKS

Letsinger's Pick: St. Xavier 14-7

Other QCH Analyst Picks:

Clasgens's Pick: St. Xavier 21-10
Shoemaker's Pick: Colerain 12-7


Talk Preseason Greater Cincinnati Football in THE 275 LOOP.




 

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