Moeller tops Lakota West in regional final for third straight season

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

MASON — After Lakota West’s football team earned a fourth straight Division I region final football berth, Firebirds’ coach Tom Bolden talked about hopefully getting past the final and into a state semifinal game — “breaking down the door,” as he put it.

The door remains impenetrable.

Lakota West suffered its fourth straight region final loss and third straight to the Moeller Crusaders, falling 22-0 on Friday night at Mason’s Beacon TriHealth Stadium.

The Firebirds (11-3) suffered their first shutout since losing, 10-0, to St. Xavier in the season-opener and saw their winning streak snapped at 11 games. They didn’t help themselves with three turnovers.

“We just made too many mistakes offensively,” Bolden said before his accepted another regional runner-up trophy.

Moeller outgained Lakota West, 300-157, including 121-24 in rushing. Moeller senior running back Jordan Marshall, the Michigan recruit who is Ohio’s reigning Gatorade Player of the Year and this season’s presumptive Mr. Football, gained 103 yards and scored a touchdown on 26 carries.

“I’ll be glad to see him graduate,” Bolden said.

Moeller sophomore quarterback Matt Ponatoski, who set school passing records this season, was 17-of-27 for 179 yards. Lakota West junior passer Sam Wiles finished 11-of-26 for 133 yards with an interception. He also lost a fumble.

Moeller controlled the ball for 27:27, the Firebirds had it for just 15:44. Still, Moeller didn’t score an offensive touchdown until Marshall went 3 yards up the middle with 5:18 left in the game. Crusaders senior kicker Devin Orr kicked three field goals.

“I was proud of our defense,” Bolden said. “They played their butts off. (Moeller) didn’t score a touchdown until the very end there.”

Lakota West also had some bad luck. One receiver slipped after making a catch inside Moeller 5-yard line, giving the Crusaders time to close a clearly open route to the end zone. Normally dependable senior kicker Brayden Benner was wide right on a 20-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. A lateral bounced off the back of Firebirds’ running back and was scooped up and returned for a touchdown.

The Crusaders (10-4) will play Springfield in the state semifinals.

This is the third straight season Moeller and Lakota West have met in the regional finals. The Crusaders won the first two games, 21-17 in 2021 and 38-20 last season. The Firebirds lost to St. Xavier in the 2020 regional finals.

The Crusaders took a 3-0 lead on their second possession, going from their own 9 to the Firebirds’ 20 to set up Orr’s 37-yard field goal with 6:19 left in the first quarter.

Moeller caught a break on Lakota West’s next possession when a Firebirds’ lateral hit sophomore running back Braydon Johnson in the back. Crusaders defensive back Karson Hobbs picked up the bouncing ball at the 5 and scored to help Moeller take a 10-0 lead with 4:49 left before halftime.

Orr added a third field goal to give Moeller a 16-0 lead with 9:26 left in the game. Moeller senior linebacker Kyler Paul tipped and plucked out of the air a Wiles pass that set up Marshall’s win-clinching touchdown with 5:18 left in the game.

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