At this point, every high school football season feels like a slow build to the annual playoff showdown between rivals St. Xavier and Colerain.
Friday night in the Division I, Region 4 final at Mason High School’s Dwire Field at Atrium Stadium, the Bombers (11-1) and the Cardinals (10-2) will meet for the fourth straight postseason.
Four of the last five meetings (and three in a row) have required overtime to decide a winner.
St. X leads the all-time series 21-14, with a 7-5 playoff record against the Cardinals, but the games have been brutally close.
Since Tom Bolden became Colerain’s head coach in 2007, his Cardinals are 5-4 against the Bombers in the regular season and 2-5 in the playoffs. Aided in research by WeAreColerain.com’s Chris Himonidis, the average point differential per game during that span is 0.4 points (with St. X at 20.63 points, and Colerain at 20.25). Since the two first met back in 1984, the average point differential per game is 2.3 in St. Xavier’s favor.
It’s a rivalry that feels required every time the calendar turns to November.
Speaking to reporters about Week 13, following his team’s 49-21 win over Mason to reach the regional final, Bolden grinned and said, “So I’m assuming they won?”
They, meaning the Bombers, rattled off 37 unanswered points to fly by Sycamore and into their second straight regional championship.
“It’ll be another instant classic like they always are. They’re gonna do what they do; we’re gonna do what we do.
“I’ve always said and I’ll always keep saying it, our matchup … it’s such a healthy respect the kids have for one another. I always say, and it’s a cliche, but it’s what’s best about football in Cincinnati and Southwest Ohio,” Bolden said.
Specht, now in his 14th season as St. X’s head coach, agreed: “Tom summed it up. It seems like every year the playoffs in Southern Ohio have had a Colerain-St. X matchup. It’s a great rivalry between two storied programs. Both teams will fight their tails off for a few hours Friday night, but there is a tremendous respect between both programs and obviously a tremendous friendship between Tom and me. This is what high school sport is all about … or at least should be.”
Tyler Williams, a 2011 Colerain grad, has a unique perspective on the rivalry. Williams starred at Colerain as a running back and quarterback before he went on to play at the University of Akron.
Last season, Williams began his coaching career at Colerain, and this season, he’s the running backs coach at St. X.
“It’s a little bit crazy to me because you could have never told me in a million years that I would be coaching at St. X, coaching at a school that beat me my senior year by one point (24-23 in a regional semifinal),” said Williams, who still plays football for the Wichita Falls Nighthawks in the IFL (Indoor Football League). “You never really get over that. Still, to this day, I never watched that game from us losing my senior year, that’s how much it hurt.”
Williams was joined this season at St. X by his father, Terrell, who’s the Bombers’ strength and conditioning coach.
“Sometimes it comes down to public school versus catholic school,” said Williams. “That’s a big thing. There’s not too many public schools that beat a Catholic school in Cincinnati. It doesn’t happen a lot. When it’s a rivalry like these two that hit heads, one might win one game in the regular season, one might win in the playoffs or one team might win both, but it’s gonna be a dogfight no matter what.”
Williams said he always wanted to be a coach and having the opportunity to do so under Bolden and Specht was a chance he couldn’t pass up.
Williams said: “What kid can say that he had the chance to coach for Steve Specht and Tom Bolden? Who can say that? It’s a great opportunity and I love it. Just seeing how the kids are coached from both sides. I take it all in. I would love to be a head coach one day, so why not go and coach for two of the best coaches in Ohio.”
This week in practice, Williams has resumed his old role as the triple-option quarterback.
“I love it,” he said. “I’m even the scout team quarterback right now for the (St. X) defense. It brings back a lot of memories.”