Unbeaten Lakota West stymies Elder, reaches third straight regional final

Credit: David A. Moodie

Credit: David A. Moodie

SHARONVILLE -- Ben Minich savors the feeling of seeing opposing quarterbacks scrambling for their lives, unable to find open receivers.

The Lakota West senior defensive back had plenty to smile about Friday at Princeton High School’s Jake Sweeney Automotive Stadium. While he and his defensive backfield buddies were blanketing Elder’s receivers, the Firebirds’ defensive linemen were chasing Panthers’ senior quarterback Ben Schoster all over the backfield and sacking him twice.

“It’s a good feeling knowing that everybody is doing their job,” said the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Minich, who recovered a fumble that led to Lakota West’s first touchdown and had an interception wiped out by penalty.

The Firebirds limited Elder to 197 yards of total offense and senior quarterback Mitch Bolden piled up 243 yards of his own in a 30-10 win over the Panthers in a Division I, Region 4 semifinal.

The win sends 13-0 and third-seeded Lakota West, the No. 2 team in the final Associated Press Division I statewide poll, to its third consecutive regional championship game – all against Greater Catholic League South Division schools. The Firebirds will meet top-seeded and No. 3 Moeller (12-1) in a regional final for the second consecutive season on Friday at a site still to be determined.

“This is a big win for the kids,” fourth-year Lakota West coach Tom Bolden said. “We had a great week of practice. Now we get a chance next week.”

The Crusaders, who edged Lakota West, 21-17, last year, advanced with a 24-16 win over fifth-seeded Mason on Friday at Middletown’s Barnitz Stadium.

The Firebirds lost to St. Xavier in a regional final in 2020.

Bolden was 12-of-20 for 152 yards with one interception and a 22-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Scott Johnson. Bolden also rushed for 97 yards and scored the clinching touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with 1:56 left in the game. He gained 85 yards on 15 carries in the second half.

Senior kicker Tyler Bohn overcame persistent swirling wins to kick field goals of 22, 45 and 42 yards and convert two extra points.

“He’s a big-time, Division I kicker,” Bolden said. He jerked his head toward the south, where the University of Cincinnati Bearcats were playing East Carolina at Nippert Stadium. “He could kick down the road. He’s really good. He just don’t miss. He’s got a cannon, and he’s accurate.”

Minich’s fumble recovery and 18-yard return set up Lakota West’s first touchdown. Senior wide receiver Trent Lloyd capped an eight-play, 44-yard drive with a 4-yard run that left the Firebirds leading, 13-3, with 50 seconds left in the first half.

Lakota West upped it to 20-3 on its first drive of the second half when Mitch Bolden launched a pass to the back corner of the end zone just before going out of bounds. The ball got past two Elder defenders and Johnson came down with it.

Second-seeded Elder, tied for fifth in the final state poll, scored its only touchdown on a drive pushed along by two Lakota West penalties on one play that cost the Firebirds not only Minich’s interception, but also 25 yards. The Panthers (10-3) capitalized with Schoster’s 3-yard pass to tight end Carson Browne, who outleaped a Lakota West defender at the back of the end zone near the goal post.

“We’re going to be aggressive, but we’ve got to be smarter than that,” Bolden said.

“That’s on us,” Minich said. “We had some unnecessary penalties. We locked back in.”

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