The Elder Panthers are ranked No. 2 in the nation in the latest Rivals100 and are the top-ranked team in the QueenCityHigh.com Ohio Division I Rankings.
The St. Xavier Bombers dropped seven spots to No. 31 in the nation (No. 3 in the local rankings), following their loss at nationally ranked Highlands last week.
Elder is aiming to return to the state title game after coming up just shy on a bid for a championship last season. St. Xavier is more than capable of getting there themselves.
The Panthers and Bombers tangle on Friday night in a key GCL South battle.
We take a deeper look at this marquee match-up:
ST. XAVIER BOMBERS
HEAD COACH: Steve Specht
2009 RECORD: 4-1, 0-0
HEAD COACH: Doug Ramsey
2009 RECORD: 5-0, 1-0
St. Xavier's Key to Victory: The Bombers strength all season long has been their stifling defense. Through five games, St. Xavier has allowed 42 points. In their only loss of the season, the Bomber defense was let down by an ineffective offense. Mistakes were also costly including a bad snap that gave Highlands a safety in the first quarter. After their lowest-scoring game of the season, quarterback Luke Massa and the offense needs to get it together for the Bombers to stand a chance. St. Xavier cannot afford mistakes in this difficult matchup. Instead the Bomber defense must force the Panthers to make mistakes and create opportunities for the offense. Coming off of a loss and facing the city's No. 1 ranked team, the Bombers' adrenaline will definitely be pumping Friday night. They must keep their emotions under control and not try to do too much.
Elder's Key to Victory: At 5-0, with wins over quality opponents, the Panthers obviously have a recipe for success. It all starts with quarterback Mark Miller who has passed for 1026 yards on the season. The Trio of Tim O'Conner, Selby Chidemo and Alex Welch have combined for over 700 yards receiving. Miller's passing is complemented by a solid running game. Ben Coffaro leads the Panthers with 417 yards. The Elder offense must be running on all cylinders. It is key that the Panthers get seven points at a time, if the Bombers can limit Elder to field goals, the Panthers may be in trouble. St. Xavier made several goal line stands against Highlands last week.
Players to Watch: Two of the Tri-state's top quarterbacks will showcase their talent on Friday night. Miller is averaging over 200 yards passing per game and has passed for 11 touchdowns. His opposite number, Luke Massa, has 726 total passing yards and eight touchdowns. St. Xavier linebacker Nathan Gerbus has made a huge impact on the Bomber defense. The sophomore has two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Steven Daniels and Chris Logeman are also key for the Bomber defense. Elder's Ben Coffaro is a hound on the ground, breaking tackles and finding holes for the Panthers. Elder defensive back Jake Fishburn leads the GCL with four interceptions.
Team Trends: The Panthers enter this premier matchup unbeaten with wins over East St. Louis, Colerain, Louisville Trinity and LaSalle. St. Xavier is coming off of its first loss of the 2009 season, a 12-7 defeat at the hands of the Highlands Bluebirds. After a huge win over Trinity in Week Three, it is possible the Bombers were overlooking the Bluebirds for this game. St. Xavier will be looking to avenge the Panthers' 33-15 victory in 2008.
Prediction: St. Xavier 17, Elder 13