By Rob Kiser
SIDNEY — Piqua’s Alexander Stadium/Purk Field will be the place to be Saturday for Shelby County football fans.
It will be renewal of a rivalry between schools that played ever year from 2005-16 and were once in the same league when 8-3 Lehman Catholic and 10-1 Fort Loramie play in a Division VII, Region 24 semifinal with kickoff at 7 p.m.
Lehman leads the series 8-4, but Fort Loramie has won four of the last six meetings after losing the first six.
And they are two teams with a strong playoff tradition.
Lehman is making its 16th appearance in the postseason with a 20-16 record, while Fort Loramie is making its ninth appearance and has a 4-8 postseason record.
They have one common opponent this season.
Lehman lost to Miami East 52-21, while Loramie beat the Vikings 21-7 en route to the Cross County Conference title.
“It is great for the (Shelby) county,” Lehman coach Richard Roll said. “It is great for the fans and it should be an exciting game.”
Both teams have players that took top honors on their respective conference teams.
The Redskins only loss this season was 34-14 to Minster in the season opener.
“They are big, they are fast and they are athletic,” Roll said about the challenges facing the Cavaliers.
Fort Loramie senior CJ Billing (6-0, 185) was the CCC Lineman of the Year, while Loramie coach Spencer Wells was Coach of the Year.
The offense is led by sophomore quarterback Collin Moore.
It is a balanced attack.
Moore has thrown multiple touchdown passes to seniors Carter Mescher (5-10, 156), Nathan Raterman (6-2, 180) and Mason Kemper (6-2, 185) and junior Mark Seger.
Collin Moore, Mescher junior Nikc Brandewie and sophomore Max Hoying (5-11, 190) have all rushed for over seven touchdowns.
“There is offense is a lot like ours,” Roll said. “They do a lot of zone reads and can throw and run the ball. The sophomore quarterback (Collin Moore) is the real deal.”
On defense, the Redskins use a 4-3 look.
“Again, they are big, fast and athletic,” Roll said.
After a slow start against Ansonia in last Saturday’s playoff win, Lehman used a big play to get going.
A 40-yard TD pass from Elliott Gilardi to RJ Bertini on fourth down sparked the Cavaliers who were trailing 14-0 at the time.
Gilardi (6-0, 170, senior), the NWCC Player of the Year, is a big part of the Lehman offense.
He has completed 134 of 215 passes for 1,650 yards, with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He is also the leading rusher with 794 yards and 11 touchdowns on 136 carries.
Bertini (5-8, 150, junior) has been a big-play receiver for him all season, with 26 catches for 355 yards and six touchdowns.
Senior Bradly Haynes (6-0, 155) leads the way with 39 catches for 542 yards and four TDs, while junior Brendan O’Leary (6-0, 155) has 27 catches for 371 yards and four touchdowns and senior John Cianciolo (5-6, 140) has 19 catches for 163 yards.
“We talked about needing to give Elliott (Gilardi) time to operate against Ansonia,” Roll said. “Once we did that, we were fine.”
Junior Tyler Sollmann (5-10, 160) rushed for more than 150 yards against Ansonia Saturday. He has 558 yards and five touchdowns on the season.
“Dan (running backs coach Dan Jacob) has done a great job with him,” Roll said. “We expected him to do well last year, but he had a knee injury. We were trying to keep him on defense, but we needed him in the backfield. He has been getting better every game.”
Lehman’s defense has been solid all season.
Freshman John Edwards (5-10, 170) leads the team with 86 tackles and six tackles for loss, while junior Drew Barhorst (6-1, 170) has 79.
Tyler Sollmann has 55 and senior Mitchell Sollmann (6-0, 175) adds 54.
Tyler Sollmann and junior Danny Lins (6-0, 175) and senior Logan Bunker 6-1, 215) all have three sacks.
O’Leary has four interceptions, while Bertini has three. Barhorst has three fumble recoveries, Mitchell Sollmann has two and Bunker has forced two fumbles.
And if it comes down to special teams, Lehman has to feel good about having senior Michael Denning (6-1, 180).
Denning’s game-winning field goal Saturday pushed him over 200 career points.
He now has 204 points, which is tied for 22nd in the OHSAA record books for kickers.
Denning has scored 67 points this season. He is 40-for-42 on PAT kicks and nine of 13 on field goal attempts, with a long of 42 yards.
Twenty-seven of his 62 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks and he is averaging 32.9 yards per punt.
“As far as field position, Michael (Dennning) can be a weapon,” Roll said.
And Roll is happy the Cavaliers were able to continue the playoff tradition.
“This is where you want to be,” he said.
And Piqua is where all Shelby County football fans will want to be Saturday night.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.