The Elder Panthers advanced to Region 4 finals for the sixth time this decade by defeating their GCL South counterparts, the St. Xavier Bombers, 17-14 on Saturday night at Nippert Stadium.
Elder (9-2) parlayed timely plays on defense and a balanced attack on offense to take move pass St. Xavier.
Junior running back Ben Coffaro continued his late season surge, by rushing for 125 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries to lead the Panthers. His 44-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter gave Elder a lead that they would never relinquish. Coffaro also led the team in receiving, catching four balls for 64 yards.
"Ben Coffaro had a great game," head coach Doug Ramsey said after the game. "We put a lot on him tonight and he did a great job."
The success on the ground translated into Elder's passing game opening up.
"We were focusing on the run all week. We knew we could pass. We think we can pass on anybody," Panthers' quarterback Mark Miller claimed. "It was our goal to get the run game going because we knew if we could run we open on them through the air."
Early on it was a game of field position. Elder was able to add a 37-yard field goal from Tony Miliano in the opening minutes of the second quarter to grab a 10-0 lead.
It appeared as if the Bombers were going to get back in the game with an epic 13-play, 80-yard drive that spanned over eight minutes of the second quarter, but the Panthers stopped them at the 9-yard line and Robert Leonard failed to convert a 28-yard field goal attempt, keeping the score at 10-0 at the half.
Elder took a 17-0 lead midway through the third quarter when Miller found classmate Tim O'Conner in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown pass.
Miller finished the night by completing 15 of 19 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. O'Conner tallied 31 receiving yards on three catches and Alex Welch pulled in three balls for 36 yards.
Just when the game looked bleak though, St. Xavier (9-3) fought back. They finally got on the scoreboard with a 1-yard Nigel Muhammad touchdown run three minutes into the second quarter.
After a big stop, the Bombers added another score when senior quarterback Luke Massa connected with Will Carroll on an 18-yard scoring strike with 3:29 to play in the contest. It would be as close as St. X would get as Elder's defense would come up with a final stop to seal the game.
"It doesn't matter what I do. It doesn't matter what the other coaches do," Ramsey said. "When you are on the field you got make a play. We had some guys step up and make some huge plays tonight."
Massa finished the night by completing 20 of 28 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Sophomore running back Conor Hundley was held to 57 yards on 16 carries in the defeat.
"Everything you saw tonight was everything that is great about high school athletics," St. Xavier Steve Specht claimed. "We just came up just a little bit short on the scoreboard, but our kids our champions."
Elder, who made it all the way to the Division I state championship game a year ago, has the experience it takes to make a deep run in the playoffs.
"We are more experienced than any other team out there," Miller suggested. "We know what to do, we know how to prep, and we know how to stay focused."
Next up is a meeting next Saturday against Anderson, who beat Middletown 41-20 to advance.
"To be one of the final eight and one of the final two in this region is impressive," Ramsey stated. "We aren't going to be satisfied with that we want to keep on going. We know we got a tough test next week."