MASON — The Lakota East High School football team couldn’t get its offense going against Elder on a night it seemed that should have been the other way around.
Elder lost starting quarterback Michael Bittner to a leg injury on its first drive, but that didn’t slow the Panthers as they cruised to a 34-6 win over the Thunderhawks in a Division I, Region 4 semifinal Friday at Mason’s Dwire Field.
While Matthew Luebbe stepped in and kept third-seeded Elder (8-4) moving the ball, East’s offense never found a rhythm with four turnovers. No. 7 seed East (8-4) was looking for its first regional-final berth, but now is 0-for-3 in second-round playoff games.
WEEK 12 FOOTBALL COVERAGE
“The turnovers hurt, but I just thought physically they dominated us,” East coach Rick Haynes said. “Their defensive line just dominated us up front, and we couldn’t move on them with anything. Obviously, when you can’t block them, it’s hard to move the ball.”
Elder’s defense didn’t give up a touchdown, but the Panthers also did what they had to do to overcome adversity on offense.
Bittner needed to be helped off the field just four plays into the game when he was driven to the ground while throwing an interception. Hawks senior Corey Dick picked off the pass at East’s 30-yard line, but the Panthers forced a three-and-out and Luebbe ran for 55 yards the next play from scrimmage.
Two plays later, Luebbe — who usually plays running back — dashed into the end zone, and East quarterback Sean Church was intercepted the next drive. That set the tone for the night. The Hawks had just one first down before halftime as the Panthers took a 21-0 lead into the locker room.
“Matthew plays a lot more (than most backups), so I felt good about it,” Elder coach Doug Ramsey said. “More than anything is moving on the disappointment from Michael. You always talk about the next man going in, but Michael is such a great kid and has done so much for us. To say he’s not playing in this game anymore, that’s a tough thing. We struggled a little bit to get things going, but Matthew made some big plays.”
East had a chance to change the momentum in the second half when Michael Howard intercepted Luebbe on the first play from scrimmage and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown to make it a two-score game.
But the offense floundered and Elder took advantage of two of the Hawks’ turnovers to build on the lead, including a Church fumble to set up a 26-yard scoring drive and a 67-yard interception return for a touchdown by Zach Bischoff to make it 34-6 with 10:28 left.
“We get the touchdown, then we turn it over the next drive,” Haynes said. “That (fumble) was probably on me, I shouldn’t have called that play. But our kids kept battling so I’m proud of them. We were picked to finish sixth in the (Greater Miami Conference) and ended up here. That’s a great accomplishment.”
It took until the fourth quarter for East to reach the point where its first-down total was greater than the offense’s number of turnovers. The Hawks were outgained 359-170 as they finished with 10 first downs.
Church, usually efficient with throws, completed 1-of-7 passes for 40 yards with two interceptions and had a team-high 62 yards rushing on 11 carries. Jack Dobrozsi was held to 25 yards on 10 carries.
“We held them to zero points (on defense),” Ramsey said. “The offense gave up six. But we talked all week about attacking the gaps and tackling, and I think our guys did a great job. They didn’t get a lot of first downs and we made it hard for them. Our defensive line and linebackers were outstanding.”
Luebbe finished with 160 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries and completed 9-of-13 passes for 98 yards and one score through the air, but Haynes didn’t think his defense was unprepared for the change at quarterback. East was expecting Bittner to run the ball quite a bit too, and the passing game would have been tough in the cold wind.
“Bittner is a great player, and I hope he’s OK,” Haynes said. “No. 7 (Luebbe) is a great player too, but they want to run their quarterback and that’s what they did, so that wasn’t much different. The way they were running it, I wouldn’t have thrown it either.”
Elder advances to play top-ranked Colerain (12-0) for a regional championship next Friday at a neutral site.
Lakota East 0-0-6-0—6
E: Matthew Luebbe 6 run (Sam Harmeyer kick)
E: Joseph Catania 1 run (Harmeyer kick)
E: Kyle Trischler 13 pass from Luebbe (Harmeyer kick)
LE: Michael Howard 36 interception return (Kick blocked)
E: Luebbe 2 run (Harmeyer kick)
E: Zach Bischoff 67 interception return (Run failed)
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