For the first time since 1985 the Moeller Crusaders are Ohio's top big school football team as they won the OHSAA Division I championship game versus the Whitmer Panthers 20-12 on Saturday night in Canton.
It was a beautiful night at one of the most historic high school venues in the country and it provided a great host to a tenacious battle for a state title. The game at Fawcett Stadium was expected to be a shootout and early shots were fired starting with the Panthers.
Senior quarterback Nick Holley completed a 37-yard pass to Michael Dzikowski for the game's first score just over three minutes into the contest. However, a muffed PAT kept it at Whitmer (14-1) up early with a 6-0 lead.
Moeller (12-3) chipped away at the deficit by way of a Matt Reiniger 27-yard field goal. At the end of the first quarter the Crusaders were down by three points.
The Crusader defense struggled early on, but came up big with a fumble recovery inside their opponent's 20-yard line. It set up Moeller's first touchdown of the night as Spencer Iacovone completed the short 6-yard pass to Keith Watkins, who walked into the endzone. The score came just seven seconds into the second quarter to give Moeller their first advantage at 10-6.
The defense responded to the team's offensive success with another turnover as defensive back Logan Kelleher intercepted a long pass attempt from the Panthers' QB Holley deep in Whitmer territory. The Crusaders capitalized with a 1-yard score on the ground from Iacovone on the ensuing possession.
Moeller went into the locker room at halftime ahead 17-6 as they held Whitmer to no points after the game's opening drive.
The third quarter started slow with Moeller having no luck offensively. They eventually turned the ball over on a Watkins' fumble that gave the Panthers the ball at the 15-yard line. Two plays later the brother QB-WR combination of Nick and Nathan Holley hooked up for a touchdown to close the gap to just five points, making the score Moeller up 17-12 at the end of the third quarter.
The final quarter of play for the 2012 season was highly contested, with both teams having big plays and turnovers traded away. The biggest play of the night for Whitmer came in the final minutes with 3:41 left on the clock as they attempted a fake punt on 4th-and-10 on their own 34 yard-line, but the Panthers could not convert.
That's where Moeller took over and winded down the clock to 1:54 before kicking a short field goal to extend their lead to 20-12. The Crusaders defense held Whitmer at the end as the clock expired.
The contest was played out pretty even statistically. Both teams turned the ball over two times with Moeller holding a slight edge in total yards (315 to 304). However, the Crusaders held a seven-minute advantage in time of possession and converted nine of their 15 third-down conversions.
Mentor was able slow down the Crusaders' rushing attack, but Iacovone made up for it by turning in a solid performance through the air. The senior completed 15 of his 19 pass attempts for 161 yards and a touchdown and added another 63 yards and a score on 11 carries.
Watkins rushed the ball 22 times, but only mustered 71 yards on the ground on 23 carries. The senior did do so damage catching the ball out of the backfield though as he pulled in eight catches for 61 yards and a score.
Nick Holley threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns and picked up 106 more yards rushing in the loss.
The state championship is the eighth overall for Moeller, but there first one in 27 years. The Crusaders are the first Cincinnati area team to win the Ohio DI title since St. Xavier brought the hardware back to the Queen City in 2007.