LIBERTY TWP. — The Lakota East High School football team seeks to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs for the first time in program history, but an Elder program on the rise stands in the way.
East (8-3) plays Elder (7-4) on Friday in a Division I, Region 4 semifinal at Mason’s Dwire Field.
“It’s something we’ve talked about with our team, trying to be the first team in school history to do that,” East coach Rick Haynes said of the opportunity to advance to a regional final for the first time. “It would be quite an accomplishment.
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“We’re facing a good team. You get to this point, everybody is good, but obviously they played very well on Friday, and we have to play very well Friday to beat them.”
Elder is coming off a 35-0 rout of Greater Catholic League South Division champion Moeller. The Panthers avenged a regular-season loss to their league foes by holding the Crusaders to just 158 yards of offense.
EHS entered the playoffs well prepared by a tough schedule. Its other three losses came against Division II No. 6-ranked Winton Woods, D-I No. 7 Cleveland St. Ignatius and D-I No. 9 Lakewood St. Edward.
Only Winton Woods beat the Panthers by more than 10 points, but they have won three straight since the 28-10 defeat and have allowed just 17 total points in those games.
“We are playing pretty well,” Elder assistant coach Craig James said. “I think the strength of our schedule has put us in a position where we are playing our best football at the right time, which is always a goal for us going into the playoffs.”
East didn’t have an easy road to this point either, though.
The Hawks have played the entire top half of the Greater Miami Conference, including edging Mason 20-17 in the first round of the playoffs last week and lopsided wins over Sycamore and Lakota West. They lost 42-0 to Colerain, but the Cardinals are the top-ranked team in Division I, and Fairfield was 7-1 until running into Colerain and Mason.
East has thrived on its defense allowing just 298.2 yards and 16.5 points per game and its triple-option offense giving opponents fits while producing 344.8 yards per game and 29.2 points.
Jack Dobrozsi has 1,180 yards and 21 touchdowns on 184 carries, and quarterback Sean Church adds 885 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing on top of completing 62 percent of his passes for 764 yards.
Elder rarely faces the triple-option offense, but James said the Panthers understand the challenge it brings.
“We have a ton of respect for Rick Haynes and the job he has done at East,” he said. “Having dealt with the triple option in the past while he was at Colerain, we understand what it takes to be successful against the scheme — an incredible amount of discipline and patience. If you lack either, they will make you pay for it.
“Defensively, they are a group that loves to get to the football. He has done a great job with them this year. They are a second-round playoff team for a reason, that’s for sure.”
The key for East will be getting to Elder’s Michael Bittner, a dual-threat quarterback who leads the GCLS with 2,331 yards passing and 16 touchdowns but adds 630 yards and 11 scores on the ground.
He’s got plenty of weapons around him with wide receiver Kyle Trischler and tight end Joe Royer topping the league in receiving yards, with Trischler racking up 834 yards and eight touchdowns on 64 receptions and Royer adding 612 yards and five touchdowns on 31 catches.
Luke Masminster (442 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns) and Matthew Luebbe (310 yards rushing, three touchdowns) add to the ground attack as Elder led the GCLS with 370.1 yards of offense per game and ranked second with 27.1 points per game.
“Their quarterback is a very good player,” Haynes said. “He was player of the year in their league — he can throw it and run it. They have a really good receiver, No. 16 (Trischler), they have a defensive lineman going to Boston College, Spencer Bono (seven sacks). Defensively, they are just really sound.
“We can’t turn it over. We have to hold onto the ball and keep their offense off the field. If we do those things, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
What: Division I, Region 4 football semifinal, No. 7 seed Lakota East (8-3) vs. No. 3 seed Elder (7-4) at Mason, 7 p.m.
Where: Dwire Field at Atrium Stadium, 4100 S. Mason-Montgomery Road, Mason
Series: First meeting
Next: Winner will play Colerain or Milford for the regional title Nov. 16 at a neutral site