Multiple Teams · Football Playoffs Regional Final Preview: #4 Elder Panthers (10-2)

Chris Himonidis



What:             Region 4 Playoffs:  Finals Preview
Who:              Colerain Cardinals (11-1) vs. Elder Panthers (10-2)
Where:          Dwire Field at Atrium Stadium @ Mason Middle School
When:            Friday November 15, 2019 @ 7:00 PM
Online Coverage:    Live AUDIO Broadcast starts at 6:45 PM via CLICK HERE
Live TV Coverage:   Live VIDEO on Spectrum News1


Team Schedule/Results and Key Players to Watch

Elder Panthers (10-2, 2-1 in GCL-South, 2nd place)
Harbin Ranking – 4th

2019 Schedule/Results:
W, 41-6:  Aug 30 @ Gahanna Lincoln (3-7 D1 R3)
W, 38-3:  Sep 06 vs. Indianapolis Cathedral IN (8-2 D2)
W, 60-54:  Sep 13 vs. Clearwater Academy International FL (7-2 D7)
L, 25-42:  Sep 21 @ St Edward (11-1 D1 R1)
W, 49-7:  Sep 27 vs. Ryle (Union) KY (5-5 D1)
W, 31-28:  Oct 04 @ St Xavier (9-3 D1 R4)
W, 42-6:  Oct 11 vs. Moeller (2-8 D1 R4)
W, 42-37:  Oct 18 @ Winton Woods (6-3 D2 R8)
W, 31-20:  Oct 25 vs. Football North (via Clarkson SS) ON (3-6 D3)
L, 25-27:  Nov 01 @ La Salle (10-2 D2 R8)

Region 4 playoffs
W, 42-17:  Nov 08 vs. Lakota West (7-4 D1 R4)
W, 28-24:  Nov 15 Neutral vs. St Xavier (9-3 D1 R4)
Nov 22 Neutral vs. Colerain (11-1 D1 R4)

(Stats – Regular Season Only)
Total Offense:  430.7 YPG (1st in GCL-South)
Rushing Offense:  220.6 YPG (1st in GCL-South)
Passing Offense:  210.1 YPG (2nd in GCL-South)
Points per game:  38.4 PPG (1st in GCL-South)

Offensive Players to watch:
QB – #7 Matt Luebbe (Sr.) 5’11” 185 lbs:  156-241 for 2,064 PASS, 18 TD, 6 INT : 134-1,099 RUSH, 11 TD, 3 Fumbles
RB – #21 Joseph Catania (Sr.) 5’10” 180 lbs:  84-430 RUSH, 9 TD
TE – #11 Joe Royer (Sr.) 6’5” 225 lbs:  51-914 REC, 10 TD (Ohio State Commit)
WR – #12 Drew Ramsey (So.) 6’1” 190 lbs:  41-445 REC, 5 TD
WR – #1 Evan Vollmer (Sr.) 5’9” 170 lbs:  38-401 REC, 2 TD
WR – #5 Dakota Postel (Jr.) 6’1” 180 lbs:  17-288 REC
OL – #78 Jakob James 6’5 285 lbs (Sr.) – Ohio State Commit
OL – #67 Luke Kandra 6’5 305 lbs (Sr.) – Louisville Commit

(Stats – Regular Season Only)
Total Defense:  358.3 YPG (LAST in GCL-South)
Rushing Defense:  194.6 YPG (LAST in GCL-South)
Passing Defense:  163.7 YPG (2nd in GCL-South)
Points per game:  6.1 PPG (1st in GCL-South)

Defensive Players to watch:
DL – #24 Connor Keyes (Sr.) 6’3″ 215 lbs:  68 Tackles, 5.0 Sacks, 1 forced fumble
LB – #25 Tanner Perdue 5’11 185 lbs (Sr.):  36 Tackles, 1.0 Sack, 1 fumble recovery, 1 INT
LB – #9 Nicholas Seger 6’1 185 (12):  37 Tackles, 2 INT
SS – #29 Colton Sandhas 6’0 190 lbs (Sr.):  88 Tackles
CB – #6 Ben Deters 5’8 165 lbs (Sr.):  27 Tackles, 2 INT


COLERAIN CARDINALS (11-1, 8-0 in GMC, 1st Place)
Harbin Ranking – 3rd

2019 Schedule/Results:
* – denotes conference game

W, 28-19:  Aug 30 @ Wayne (3-7 D1 R2)
L, 14-21:  Sept 6 vs. St. Xavier (9-2 D1 R4)
W, 45-14:  Sept 13 vs. Oak Hills (0-10 D1 R4) *
W, 23-14:  Sept 20 @ Princeton (6-5 D1 R4) *
W, 41-14:  Sept 27 @ Middletown (1-10 D1 R4) *
W, 27-7:  Oct 4 vs. Sycamore (5-5 D1 R4) *
W, 17-3:  Oct 11 @ Hamilton (5-6 D1 R4) *
W, 33-28:  Oct 18 vs. Mason (5-6 D1 R4) *
W, 34-3:  Oct 25 vs. Lakota East (5-5 D1 R4) *
W, 16-10 (ot):  Nov 1 @ Fairfield (10-1 D1 R4) *

W, 30-7:  Nov 08  vs. Princeton (6-5 D1 R4)
W, 28-7:  Nov 15 @ Fairfield (10-1 D1 R4)
Nov 22 Neutral vs. Elder (10-2 D1 R4)

Total Offense:  323.2 YPG (3rd in GMC)
Rushing Offense:  273.9 YPG (2nd in GMC)
Passing Offense:  49.3 YPG (9th in GMC)
Points per game:  27.8 PPG (3rd in GMC)

Offensive Players to watch:
QB – #1 Freddie Johnson (Jr.) 5’11” 170 lbs:  22-49 for 401 yds PASS, 4 TD, 97-566 yds RUSH, 9 TD, 3 Fumbles
FB – #9 M.J. Flowers (So.) 6’1” 185 lbs:  92-475 RUSH, 5 TD, 2 Fumbles
RB – #14 Hamzah Abdul-Waheed (Sr.) 5’6” 175 lbs:  76-560 RUSH, 5 TD – 3-38 REC, 1 fumble
OL – #60 Ace Ehrenschwender (Sr.) 6’0” 280 lbs:  3-yr starter on the OL, Team Captain


Total Defense:  217.3 YPG (2nd in GMC)
Rushing Defense:  94.6 YPG (2nd in GMC)
Passing Defense:  122.7 YPG (8th in GMC)
Points per game:  13.3 PPG (2nd in GMC)

Defensive Players to watch:

DL – #49 Donovan Owens (Sr.) 6’2” 230 lbs:  39 Tackles, 3.5 Sacks
DL – #58 Dontay Corleone (Jr.) 6’1” 285 lbs:  40 Tackles, 6.0 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Fumble Recovery (UC Commit)
LB – #8 Xander Kendall (Jr..) 5’11” 220 lbs:  55 Tackles, 1 Sack, 2 Interceptions
LB – #11 Elijah Ford (Sr.) 6’3” 215 lbs:  32 Tackles, 3.5 Sacks, 1 Fumble Recovery
DB – #3 Deshawn Pace (Sr.) 6’3” 210 lbs:  47 Tackles, 3 INT (UC Commit) : 26-153 RUSH, 4 TD
DB – #10 Sean Williamson (Jr.) 6’0” 160 lbs:  56 Tackles, 2 INT


Keys to Victory for Colerain

    • OFFENSE:  One of the goals of every team playing this late in the season is to have their offense humming at it’s peak of the year.  After last weeks’ big win over Fairfield, we could say that about this Colerain team.  Unfortunately tragedy struck not long after the win over Fairfield as Senior Running Back/Linebacker Jaylen Thomas was involved in a terrible car accident that would require surgery and end his season.  Jaylen became a much bigger part of the offensive game plan in week 5 against Middletown where he broke out with 12 rushes for 174 yards and 2 TD.  In two games this postseason, Thomas had 258 yards rushing (11.2 avg) with 3 TD.  With Jaylen no longer an option, this offense must find a way to re-invent itself once again this season.  Likely, we could expect to see Sr. Ham’zah Abdul-Waheed move back to wingback and possibly even see the return of So. MJ Flowers to the FB position.  The real question will be how much do we see Sr. Deshawn Pace carry the ball.  He is going to be asked to do more on defense in this game than he has in any game in his career at Colerain (more on that below).  Ultimately, this could be THE game where Jr. QB Freddie Johnson takes that next step in his development and puts the offense on his shoulders and leads this team to an improbably victory.  Johnson has been much more of a “game manager” during his first year under center.  He has only rushed for 100 yards in a game ONCE this season, way back in week 6 against Sycamore.  That most likely is going to have to change this week if the Cardinals are hopeful of winning their 3rd consecutive regional title.  Tactically, the Colerain offense needs to limit turnovers to NONE, not easy to do with new players in the backfield, and have long, sustained drives ending in touchdowns.  The longer Elder QB Matt Luebbe and his D1 OL and receivers can spend on the sidelines, the better shot the Cards have at the upset.
    • DEFENSE:  So if I told you that Fairfield RB Juthan McClain would be healthy for the entire game and yet, the Indians would score LESS points than in the week 10 game, would you have believed me?  Well, that’s exactly what happened as the Colerain defense, once again, came up HUGE in the win over Fairfield last week in the regional semi-finals.  McClain did have 147 mainly meaningless yards as he was held out of the endzone the entire game.  Additionally, we discussed in this space last week the importance of turnovers in Colerain’s defense gameplan.  3 interceptions (one returned for a TD) and 2 fumble recoveries later…the Cardinals had 5 turnovers on the night and punched their ticket to the Regional final.  Now they will face the best offense in the region and one of the best in the entire state of Ohio.  At this time last year, Elder was on their way to the regional final without their starting QB Michael Bittner due to injury.  He had led Elder all year but couldn’t go in the game vs. our Cardinals.  The backup QB, a Junior by the name of Matthew Luebbe stepped in after very limited action at the position all year, and tried to lead the Panthers to victory.  Well, we know how that turned out.  This year, Luebbe has been the QB from the start and has set the scoreboard on fire.  At QB, he led the GCL in RUSHING with 1,099 yards and was 2nd in passing with 2,064 yards, along with scoring 24 TD.  Last week with Elder trailing St. Xavier 24-21 with 1:20 left in the game on 4th and 2, game on the line, Luebbe ran up the middle for a 70-yard TD that would be the game-winner.  He is fast, he is elusive, he is smart.  He also plays behind a line that averages 6’4″ 273 lbs with 2 Power 5 lineman in Jakob James (Ohio State) and Luke Kandra (Louisville).  Let’s talk about his weapons down the field.  Led by another Ohio State commit in Sr. WR/TE Joe Royer (914 yds, 10 TD) and So. WR Drew Ramsey (445 yds, 5 TD), the Colerain secondary is going to be tested like it hasn’t been tested all year.  Expect Sr. Captain Deshawn Pace to get the job of covering Royer.  So. Kenny Willis is going to get the other side and will be tested early and often.  On the line, the Cardinals are going to need outstanding effort from Jr. NT Dontay Corleone (Cincinnati recruit) and Sr. DE Donovan Owens.  If they can find a way to get any push against one of the best OLs in the state, that could force Luebbe to hesitate enough in the backfield to allow for penetration of the LB’s and bottle him up for little or no gain.  Luebbe is a “North-South” runner.  If Colerain leaves the middle of the field open, he will find it and small runs will turn into huge gains.  Finally, Elder had 3 turnovers last week against St. Xavier.  If the Cards can keep their trend of turnovers going and get at least one on the night, that is one less opportunity the Panthers have to score.  If Colerain can hold Elder under 24 points, they should be in position to win late.  But for a team that averages 38.4 pts/game, that is a lot to ask.
    • Bottom-Line:  Last year these same two teams met in the Regional final and Colerain won going away, 42-0.  The Panthers entered the game after having just lost a major player on offense to injury and were a mostly young team looking to find their way.  Sound familiar?  It should.  It is exactly where the Cardinals find themselves this year.  They are relatively young across the board and have just recently lost one of their best players in Sr. RB/LB Jaylen Thomas to season-ending injury.  To be clear, the Cardinals are not considered the favorite to win this game.  However, that didn’t stop them 2 of the last three weeks so why start now.  If the offense can stay on the field and end every drive in a TD, or close to it, they can stay in this game to the end.  Elder is going to get their points….think 24-28 range.  The weight is going to fall on the offense to keep up.  Losing Jaylen can’t be overstated…but neither an the heart of this team.  Mostly overlooked at the start of the season, this Colerain has a chance make even more history than they already have.  The only team in the history of this region to win at least 3 regional championships in a row is Moeller, who most recently accomplished this feat from 2012-2014.  Winning Friday will give Colerain 3 regional championships in a row and 4 of the last 5.  Rarefied air to say the very least.  Can they do it?  Only time will tell but no matter how it ends, what a tremendous ride we have all had the pleasure of experiencing this season!