As there hasn’t been a whole lot to do because of COVID-19, it’s very easy to look back and reminisce about the past. For anyone who is loyal to Elder and everything that goes on with Elder, you have probably reminisced about the previous football season once or twice, a couple times a week, or every day.
It’s so easy to look back at this past football season and everything that came with it. A run to Canton to play for a state title will not soon be forgotten. I know I never will. Neither will anyone at Elder in 2019-20.
It becomes really special once you know it’s over. Looking back, this was without a doubt the highlight of my time in high school, and it most likely was and will still be for many. What a year.
There never was a story written or anything like that regarding the 2019 football season, so I’m going to tell the story of the 2019 Elder Panthers from how I saw it, week by week. I snapped the ball pretty much every play, sometimes earlier than I should’ve, but I got to be a part of the magic on the field. I cherish every single play.
A special thanks to Adam Duwel for filming our games from the sidelines this year. Watching these are so fun, and it’s a great way to keep the memories of the season alive. All of us are thankful for your work, Adam, so thank you. All highlights and more can be found on Adam’s YouTube channel.
Pictures from many games can be found on EHSports.com.
Without further ado, the 2019 Elder Panther football season.
Week 1: @ Gahanna Lincoln
It was a long offseason. Our first offical practice was on August 1st and we didn’t have a game until August 30th. It felt like an eternity between two-a-day practices and the week of the first game. Needless to say, all of us were chomping at the bit to play in a real game.
I remember sitting in my sixth period Lifestyles class on that Friday ready to throw my desk out the window because I was so excited. I laid out my uniform the night before, went out and bought eye black for me and the boys. Packed my headphones for the bus. I’m sure everyone was bouncing off the walls because we were actually about to play.
Bus rides to far away games always consist of the same things: Everyone has some sort of earphone in, whether it be earbuds or headphones, everyone is listening to music of some sort. About 70% of the people on the bus are sleeping, some longer and more awkwardly than others. There is also always an attempt to play some sort of movie too. When it does in fact work, movies like Lone Survivor, episodes of The Office, or classic Elder Football games are always played. I honestly do not recall anything being played on the bus to Columbus.
Gahanna had their Bahama night or whatever you want to call it. Crowd was good on both sides. They got up 7-0 to start, then Matthew Luebbe took one a long way on our first play from scrimmage, and we never looked back from that. Pretty much walloped them the rest of the game. The start of something great right here.
We got up big late in the fourth quarter, and freshman offensive lineman Evan James was put in the game at center. Evan was, in fact, nervous for his first varsity snaps. He did roll back one of his snaps, to where senior offensive lineman Carter Smith joked on the sideline, “Evan, this isn’t kickball.”
Final from Gahanna: Elder 41, Gahanna Lincoln 6, (1-0)
Week 2: vs. Cathedral
The first home game is always exciting. This game was probably the most crowded I’ve seen it in my four years at Elder. Perfect weather, and everything was set to be a great game.
Apparently there was a bunch of traffic that Cathedral had to go through on their way to the Pit, so the game was delayed about an hour or so. Normally we would stretch in front of a relatively empty stadium, but for this game, stretching took place in front of a crowded stadium, and a full Panther cheering section.
I remember running out and huddling up with the whole team right on the sideline, like we did before every game. We had no idea who the guy was that was going to talk before the game, so a very excited Brady Buller yelled and screamed the whole time in front of everybody. Absolutely electric. That was the only game he did that.
This was the first of may epic games for this season. Joe Royer caught a touchdown pass and ran over about 7 guys in the process. I was standing at the line of scrimmage in awe of it. Came down to the wire like just about all of them did. Huge field goal by Sam Harmeyer late in the fourth quarter tied it and sent the game into overtime. Scored in a hurry off of a Luebbe run in OT, and a bobbled snap and fumble recovery by David Larkins sealed it in an instant classic. Hammered the nail.
Final (OT): Elder 38, Cathedral 31 (2-0)
Week 3: vs. Clearwater Academy (FL)
I know a lot of us on the team felt like everyone was counting us out from the start on this one. Everybody just looked at Clearwater’s roster and immediately said we didn’t have a chance. I think all of us knew that we were about to play some really talented dudes, but there was never any lost confidence or anything like that.
Started out a little rough. They took their first play a long way for a touchdown. I’m sure a lot of people thought it was over right about then. That was not the case. Back and forth all night long.
Not that this had anything to do with the outcome of the game or anything like that, but there was a play where my helmet was pretty much yanked off of my head and rolled 25 yards down the field. The most blatant face mask call in history, and it was missed.
About 100 points later, we were driving down the field down two with little time left. The crowd was electric, everyone there was up and standing. You could feel the energy on the field. The consensus in the huddle was that we simply were not going to lose. That was it, all of us knew it.
Scored late to go up 60-54. They got the ball back with very little time left, and Ben Deters sealed the deal with a pick, and we kneeled out the rest of the clock for the wild victory. A little bit of fireworks while kneeling and after the clock ran out, but all is well.
Probably the most physical football game of my life. The guys on that team were really, really good players, and it was a dogfight all night long. The most wild game I have ever been a part of in any sport I have ever played. What a game.
Final: Elder 60, Clearwater 54 (3-0)
Week 4: @ Lakewood St. Edward
Just wasn’t our day in Cleveland. St. Ed’s had a good team and they just beat us. We didn’t play well enough. It was the hottest football game I’ve ever played in. Middle of the day and it was about 90 degrees. Overall, wasn’t good enough.
While we did lose the game, I did have my own personal highlight. St. Ed picked off a pass at their own 30 yard line. The guy who picked off the pass had nothing but daylight ahead of him. Unfortunately for him, I went full LeBron James mode and ran faster than I ever have in my life, and chased him down and tackled him at about the 15 yard line. Luke Kandra calls it the greatest angle ever taken in a football game. I call it clockwork. One of the most athletic things I’ve ever done.
Bottom line: wasn’t good enough in week four. Bounce back Elder, bounce back.
Final: Elder 25, St. Edward 42 (3-1)
Week 5: vs. Ryle
The Joe Royer show was on full display against Ryle. Kept throwing the ball to Joe and he kept going up and getting it. It was child’s play. Everything that was thrown to him was caught. That was pretty much the case the whole year, but he made dudes look silly during this game.
Domination from the Panthers all night. Paul Moore topped off the night by absolutely laying someone out in the fourth quarter and forcing a fumble. Sent the sideline into a frenzy.
Final: Elder 49, Ryle 7 (4-1)
Week 6: @ St. Xavier
GCL football is so awesome. No other way to put it. There was a lot of noise surrounding this game. It was the 100th meeting between Elder and St. X all-time, so a lot of people were talking about that. Plus, X was undefeated at that point, so everyone anticipated a great game.
This game was also a part of the Great American Rivalry Series for 2019, and that Thursday, the a couple US Marines came in with a chin-up bar during lunch, and all three lunch bells were rowdy. Guys were lining up to rep out on chin-ups. Most fun I’ve ever had at lunch.
Everyone was psyched to play this one. All the anticipation and waiting for the first GCL game was all built up and once it came time to go, we were ready. Defense played their best game of the year so far. Made so many plays. Ben Deters and Tanner Perdue both had big picks. Connor Keyes was a force on the defensive line that game.
Luebbe scored on two long, long runs, one in each half. Got a little close late, and just when everyone thought a comeback was in the works, Drew Ramsey took one to the end zone and ended all St. X hopes for a late victory.
We got these hats after the game from the Rivalry Series people. It kind of made me feel like we won a bowl game or something, so that was pretty cool. The boys were fired up after this one, and rightfully so. The pieces were starting to fit into place starting with this game. We were already a confident group before, but now we had 22 confident dudes instead of just 11.
Final: Elder 31, St. Xavier 28 (5-1)
Week 7: vs. Moeller
The first home GCL football game is often the game that is most looked forward to by the student body. I’d say this was probably the case this year as well. GCL games have a bit of a different feel to them, and add that feeling to playing in the Pit, and it’s one hell of a time.
The blackout theme is always one that is looked forward to by everyone as well. Cheering section all in black clothes, all the players in black cleats and tape and other accessories. It’s just a little something extra that adds to it. I’m not sure why or how, but it does.
I’m going to be nice and short with this one. We beat the daylights out of Moeller. Up 42-0 by the end of the 3rd quarter. Ben Ott had a pick six and Jack Tucker celebrated by doing arm circles while running down the field to celebrate with him. One of the funniest celebrations I’ve seen.
One of my favorite memories of this season also happened during this game. It started to rain a little bit, and the way it looks in the lights while it comes down makes it more visible. So, while in the huddle in the middle of the field, the right side of our offensive line thought it was snowing. Both Drew Beckenhaupt and Carter Smith thought it was snowing while it was a 60 degree night in October. Classic.
Anyway, emphatic victory.
Final: Elder 42, Moeller 6 (6-1)
Week 8: @ Winton Woods
Year in and year out, Elder vs. Winton Woods is always a pretty big match-up. We were fighting for a playoff clinch and home playoff game, and they were playing for their playoff hopes.
Really fast and really physical game from both sides. Pretty much back and forth all night long. Evan Vollmer and Joe Royer were security blankets that night, as they were all year. Huge fumble recovery by Nicholas Paff in the second half that gave us the chance to go up two scores. Overall, a really gritty and solid win over a good team. Really fun game to play in as well.
Final: Elder 42, Winton Woods 37 (7-1)
Week 9: vs. Football North
Senior night at the Pit. Bittersweet moment, even though we all fully expected to have a home playoff game at that point. But, it’s senior night for many people. Not just the players and student managers, but for all the seniors in the cheering section as well as for all of the senior parents as well. Always a good night.
We didn’t play too great against Football North, but well enough to win. Luebbe caught a touchdown pass from Drew Ramsey. The man did everything. Panthers win on senior night.
Final: Elder 31, Football North 20 (8-1)
Week 10: @ La Salle
GCL championship week. Really excited for this game. A lot of noise surrounding this game, obviously. Just didn’t show up in the first half. Unbelievable comeback in the second half wasn’t enough. Got going too little and too late. Just got beat.
It was disappointing, but I can remember walking out of film the next day, and some of the offensive guys sat in the locker room and agreed that we didn’t want this feeling again. Learn from our losses and head into the playoffs ready to go.
Final: Elder 25, La Salle 27 (8-2)
Week 11 Playoffs: vs. Lakota West
Playoff time came upon us, and the mission officially started. A home playoff game is a great thing to have. Especially when you have it in the Pit. One more go around in such a great stadium.
We wanted to come out and dominate, and I think we did a pretty good job with that. Recovering an onside kick to start off the game set the tone for the rest of the night. Never looked back from that moment. All Panthers in round one.
Final: Elder 42, Lakota West 14
Week 12 Playoffs: vs. St. Xavier
Round 2 of both the playoffs and the match-up was sure to be epic. We all pretty much knew that we would probably be seeing St. X again at some point in the playoffs, and it happened. And what happened was unbelievable.
Really great football game. Low scoring in the first half, and tied at 7 going into halftime. The second half started out quite badly. They returned a strip sack for a touchdown right away, and I will admit, that one was my fault. Yet, we managed to tie it up and keep on battling all night.
The defense made some huge plays in this game. Bartley Thomas had a pick in the end zone to stop a drive. Nicholas Seger made a great deflection on a pass to the end zone, which lead to 3 points instead of a possible touchdown for St. X. Came up big all night, and that was much of the story for the playoffs.
So, one thing leads to another, and we find ourselves down 24-21 with under two minutes to play. We were fighting for our lives. Couldn’t not score. Had no intentions of an early exit. All of us on the field were well aware of the situation that we were in.
First down went for about 6 yards. Second down went for about 2. Third down we took a big shot down field, but incomplete. Had to get 2 or else it was over.
As I walked up to the line of scrimmage, I could hear the X stands getting increasingly loud. The cowbells were ringing and the people were yelling. I snapped the ball, sealed my block off well enough, and then I got my legs taken out by someone behind the play.
The first thing I saw when I looked up was Luebbe stumbling after someone dove for his ankles. Then I just saw him run. Watching that play will always give me goosebumps.
Took the lead 28-24. There was still time left, though. The remainder of the game was probably the most stressed out I have ever been so far in life. I had to stand there on the sideline leaning up against a bench because I was so nervous. They just kept driving, too.
When it came time for the final play, I had to get a better view, so me and Carter Smith took a nice stand on the bench and watched it happen. Brady Buller still managed to rush the passer despite having to go against all five St. X offensive linemen. After the longest 4.9 seconds of my life, the pass fell incomplete, and pandemonium ensued. Unbelievable.
Final: Elder 28, St. Xavier 24
Week 13 Playoffs: vs. Colerain
This is where it ended last year, and none of us had any plans of ending it again the same way. Revenge is a sweet thing, and that’s what it came down to in the Regional Final.
We did not play all that well in the first half. We were about half a yard away from being down two scores heading into halftime. It’s safe to say that Coach Ramsey was not too happy at halftime (ask Coach Finke and Coach Rankin), but his message was received by everyone in the locker room. It was the Regional Championship and we didn’t come out ready to go, and that was the start of it.
In the second half, the defense was lights out. Colton Sandhas, like every game of the year, was all over the field making plays. Connor Keyes was a menace on the defensive line making a ton of important stops. Offensively, put the pieces together and did what we had to do. The touchdown pass to Royer on 4th and goal was a hell of a catch and throw. Getting the ball back and watching Luebbe score and dive into the end zone like Superman is something that I will always remember.
It’s only fitting that this game also ended on a defensive stand to end the game. Sealed the game via an interception on the last play of the game by Nicholas Seger, and revenge was served. One step closer.
Final: Elder 28, Colerain 21
Week 14 Playoffs: vs. Springfield
“You did not prepare for it to end in PIQUA, Ohio,” said Coach Craig James on the field before the game. Absolutely true. The only way we pictured it ending was in Canton. Canton was the promised land, and we knew damn well that we wanted it.
State final four against a very good team in Springfield was what we spent the entire year preparing for. We prepared all year to earn the right to go to Canton, and this was the biggest test yet. They stood in the way, as Coach James also said.
Defensive stop on the first drive, and we then took the ball all the way to the one on the following possession. I’m pretty confident that Joseph Catania was in the end zone on 1st and goal, but oh well. Didn’t score, but scored the following posession. Tied going into half at 14 a piece.
The second half was competitive. The forced fumble on the punt by David Larkins and then recovered by the punter, Tommy Thamann, was aboslutely awesome. Split field goals in the 3rd quarter, and were tied going into the 4th.
Started off the fourth with a touchdown by Joseph Catania. Then, Sam Harmeyer kicked the most perfect onside kick of all time, and we got the ball back ready to go up two scores. Cooper Johnson took a handoff and bounced it outside and into the end zone to take the two score lead.
Because we love drama, Springfield scored to cut it to 7, then they got the ball back with enough time for only one drive, so it was up to the defense to make another game winning stop to send us to Canton.
Colton Sandhas hit a guy so hard during this drive that the people in the parking lot may have heard it. My Lord, did he hit him. But, Springfield drove down the field a bit, but ran out of opportunities as they turned it over on downs, and yet another defensive stand in the fourth quarter happened.
Knelt out the clock and the ticket was punched.
Final: Elder 31, Springfield 24
Week 15 Playoffs: vs. Pickerington Central
Let me start this off by saying this. I know for me, and I’m sure for just about everyone else on the team, that this was the most fun week of my life. Walking into the locker room and seeing the cutouts of the ’02 and ’03 state championship rings was pretty nice. Posters were made and hung around the school. You could feel it all week long.
There were news stations at practice every day for that whole week. There would always be some there occasionally for other weeks, but every day, somebody was there interviewing Coach Ramsey and filming out practice.
Jack Langen also made the coolest video of all time during this week. That video still gives me the chills. School was called off that Friday, and there was a huge sendoff that was much more crowded than I expected. All of us on the bus thought it was really cool.
What a day that was. Ate lunch at a rest stop, like most bus trips. Toured the Pro Football Hall of Fame, ate dinner at a local college, then returned to the stadium to get ready to play.
I have never been as jacked up and ready to go before a game as I was before the State Championship. Sitting in the NFL locker room in Canton just waiting to head out to the field really balls up every single emotion you have going into the game, and I’ll bet everyone felt that.
Running out of the tunnel behind the cheerleaders was so freaking awesome. I know I was surprised how packed the Elder side looked. I knew a lot of people would come out, but I didn’t think the seats would look as full as they did. Pretty much the entire lower bowl on Elder’s side was full. Chills.
The quickest game of my life. I mean that. It went by before I could realize it. I’ll never forget any of it. From the game itself to the embraces after the game, I’ll never forget it.
The only game I want to go back and change. Everyone feels that way. It’s always going to hurt. We all know that.
It may sound cliche, but it was a hell of a run. I will never, ever, for as long as I live, forget the journey we went through. Starting at camp in July, and ending in the State Championship in Canton. Once it’s all over, you learn to cherish every single moment of it. I’d do it all again if I could. There is nothing like Elder Football.
Not many people can say that they had a season like ours. Not many people won games in the fashion we did, or against the teams that we did. It didn’t end the best way, but shit, we still made it to the greatest sports stage that Ohio has to offer.
Playing football for Elder is something so, so special. The memories and relationships that I have from Elder football will last a lifetime. We made it to Canton. What a year it was. One that won’t be forgotten.
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