High School Football Playoffs: Hamilton falls to Moeller in first round

Hamilton Big Blue football vs. Princeton Vikings on Friday, August 28, 2020 at Virgil Schwarm Stadium in Hamilton. On Friday, BIg Blue fell to Moeller in a first-round Division I playoff game. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

HAMILTON – The Hamilton High School football team will have to wait another year to earn the program’s first playoff win.

Moeller scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the second quarter to open a 15-point lead and held off the Big Blue in the second half for a 43-27 win Friday in a Division I, Region 4 playoff opener at Virgil Schwarm Stadium.

Sixth-seeded Hamilton (3-4) was playing the first home playoff game in program history and earned its best playoff position since the 1997 team advanced as a No. 3 seed in a four-team postseason system. That squad saw its unbeaten record end in the first round as well.

Moeller (2-5), proving better than its one-win record indicated from a tough schedule, collected its first playoff win in six years.

“We are a team, we are a city, we are a community,” Hamilton coach Nate Mahon said after the game, wishing to provide just one statement and no other comments. “We don’t get some of the luxuries they have. I’ll stand by my city and my community every day.”

The game was highlighted by big plays setting up the offenses for scores. After the teams each scored touchdowns on their first drive, Moeller got a big return out of Alec Weeder, who fielded the kickoff at the 1-yard line and ran it 96 yards to set up T.J. Rotello’s second touchdown run of the night for a 15-7 lead.

Hamilton made it a one-point game when Malik Verdon connected with Keyshawn Stephens on a 19-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter, but the Crusaders had another answer with 3:55 left in the half and forced the Big Blue to punt on the ensuing drive. Moeller then punished Hamilton with a 60-yard pass from Noah Geselbracht to Tennel Bryant to make it a 29-14 game going into halftime.

“Our offense carried us,” Moeller coach Mark Elder said. “They were lights out, played really well, explosive plays. I thought they played outstanding. There' some things we need to get better on with special teams and defensively for sure, but by and large, we played well enough to win the game. We needed to get some of that corrected before we go next week.”

Hamilton struggled to gain momentum in the second half, especially as Verdon needed helped off the field three times – twice after making tackles on defense. The Miami University commit is a two-way athlete playing quarterback the last three games with Quincy Simms-Marshall out because of a shoulder injury.

Verdon’s second touchdown pass, a 21-yarder to Kerry Ware, came on his first snap after leaving with an apparent ankle injury for a couple of plays. That once again made it a one-score game with 9:09 left in the third quarter but Moeller wouldn’t let it get any closer. Verdon finished with 117 yards passing and two touchdowns to go along with 123 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground.

The Big Blue coaching staff was noticeably upset on the sidelines about some of the hits and injuries that occurred during the game, not just with Verdon. However, Mahon didn’t want to answer any questions about the game itself.

Moeller coach Mark Elder said he felt like his team played between the whistles.

“There’s no room for any cheap nonsense, that’s not what we’re about,” Elder said when asked about the physicality of the game. “I didn’t think that’s how we played, and that’s not what we want, but make no mistake, we want to be the most physical team on the field every Friday by a lot and that’s part of the deal. Physicality between the whistles is absolutely reinforced in a very positive light, and I think that’s what we’ve done.”

Moeller was led by Geselbracht’s 302 yards passing and two touchdowns. Bryant finished with 197 yards receiving. Geselbracht opened the season as the team’s backup quarterback, while Rotello was the team’s starter.

After three games, Rotello moved to running back and Geselbracht has been slowly improving every week. The offense really began clicking last week when Moeller dropped a 27-25 loss to LaSalle. Now the Crusaders get to see if that can pay off for a better performance against Greater Catholic League South rival St. Xavier in a rematch of their 43-14 loss in Week 5.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Elder said. “We’re a 1-5 team walking into this game, that wasn’t ranked real high, but our players have done nothing but believe in each other and what we’re doing and that showed up.”

In Other News