High School Football: Lakota West stuffs St. Xavier to reach regional finals

Lakota West quarterback Mitch Bolden (7) andcreceiver Ben Minich (13) jump to celebrate their Division I regional semifinal football playoff game victory against St. Xavier Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 at Princeton High School's Pat Mancuso Field. Lakota West won 12-2. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Lakota West quarterback Mitch Bolden (7) andcreceiver Ben Minich (13) jump to celebrate their Division I regional semifinal football playoff game victory against St. Xavier Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 at Princeton High School's Pat Mancuso Field. Lakota West won 12-2. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

SHARONVILLE -- After suffering back-to-back losses to St. Xavier – one in the playoffs to end the 2020 season and the other to open this season – Alex Afari and his Lakota West teammates were on a mission in Friday’s Division I, Region 4 semifinal.

Mark it “Accomplished.’

The Firebirds stymied a usually high-powered Bombers’ offense, holding them without a touchdown for the first time since their 2016 opener in a 12-2 win on Pat Mancuso Field at Princeton High School’s Jack Sweeney Automotive Stadium.

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“I’m definitely proud of the defense,” Afari said. “We played our butts off. I’m excited. We lost to them two times. In my senior year, I didn’t want to lose to them again.”

Lakota West, the region’s No. 3 team in the final Harbin computer rankings and No. 8 in the final Associated Press Division I poll, forced St. Xavier into a season-high four turnovers while improving to 11-1 with an 11th straight win and earning a berth opposite top-seeded Moeller in Friday’s regional final at a site to be determined. The Crusaders, who play in the Greater Catholic League South Division with St. Xavier, edged fourth-seeded Princeton, 28-21.

Junior defensive back Joshua Fussell had two interceptions, including one in the end zone to snuff out St. Xavier’s last-gasp possession with 2:37 left in the game. Senior defensive back Jyaire Brown had a third interception and Afari recovered a fumbled punt return, which was the only turnover Lakota West was able to turn into points with the first of junior Tyler Bohn’s two field goals. The Firebirds also stopped two St. Xavier fourth-down conversion attempts, one requiring a measurement that looked a chain link short of being a first down.

Caption
Lakota West running back Cameron Goode carries the ball in for a touchdown during their Division I regional semifinal football playoff game against St. Xavier Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 at Princeton High School's Pat Mancuso Field. Lakota West won 12-2. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Lakota West running back Cameron Goode carries the ball in for a touchdown during their Division I regional semifinal football playoff game against St. Xavier Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 at Princeton High School's Pat Mancuso Field. Lakota West won 12-2. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Lakota West running back Cameron Goode carries the ball in for a touchdown during their Division I regional semifinal football playoff game against St. Xavier Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 at Princeton High School's Pat Mancuso Field. Lakota West won 12-2. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“Hats off to St. Xavier,” excited Lakota West coach Tom Bolden said. “That was a instant classic. That was a great football game. It’s always battle against them. I’ll tell you what. There’s something special going on at Lakota West. This was a statement win. I couldn’t be more proud. This is a beautiful time.”

Bohn connected on field goals of 32 and 38 yards before senior running back Cameron Goode broke free for a 46-yard run that set up his 4-yard scoring plunge with 9:27 left in the fourth quarter. Goode finished with 106 yards on 18 carries, and Lakota West possessed the ball for almost seven more minutes than the Bombers.

St. Xavier had scored first in every game this season before Bohn’s first field goal gave Lakota West the lead. The only points St. Xavier could manage came on a blocked punt that bounced out of the end zone for a team safety with 5:39 left in the game.

“They sent us home last year in the last seconds,” said Goode, referring to St. Xavier going ahead with 27 seconds left in last season’s playoff game. “That’s why I was nervous on the sideline. We needed one more drive.”

Goode was impressed by the focus displayed by Lakota West this week in practice,

“When I say we watched film, I mean we watched film,” he said.

“We were locked in,” Afari said. “We were really focused in practice.”

St. Xavier had scored 30 or more points in 11 of its first 12 games. The Bombers offense had scored at least one touchdown in every game since being shutout by perennial California powerhouse St. John Bosco in the opener of the 2016 season. They actually outgained Lakota West in total offense, gaining 205 yards on 51 plays to the Firebirds’ 204 on 50 plays.

“Our defense was tough and gritty,” Bolden said. “The offense wasn’t so good, but we did enough. We created more turnovers and took care of the ball.

“What a time to be alive.”

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