St. Xavier set to host nationally-ranked Don Bosco Prep (N.J.)

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Cincinnati St. Xavier Bombers

Cincinnati St. Xavier has never been reluctant to play some of the elite high school football programs in the nation. Despite the loss of 18 starters from the 2007 Division I state championship team, the Bombers scheduled another tough slate of games this fall. St. X (2-1) will have its third consecutive non-local opponent Saturday afternoon when the Bombers host Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) at 2 p.m. at Ballaban Field.


Cincinnati St. Xavier has never been reluctant to play some of the elite high school football programs in the nation.

Despite the loss of 18 starters from the 2007 Division I state championship team, the Bombers scheduled another tough slate of games this fall.

St. X (2-1) will have its third consecutive non-local opponent Saturday afternoon when the Bombers host Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) at 2 p.m. at Ballaban Field.

“Bosco is a big, physical and very talented football team,” St. X coach Steve Specht said. “They return 12 starters from last year’s undefeated state championship team and are as good a football team as we’ve seen in a while.”

Don Bosco, which opens its season Saturday, is rated No. 6 nationally in the ESPN Rise Fab 50 this week.

The New Jersey powerhouse, which has won the past two big-school state titles in the Garden State, will arrive in the Queen City about 9:30 a.m. Friday.

“We think it’s a great opportunity,” Don Bosco athletic director Nunzio Campanile said Thursday afternoon.

The game is a one-year deal. Both schools agreed to the game after Don Bosco had an open date and called St. X. Campanile said the game is getting a great deal of attention this week in New Jersey. Don Bosco will play at California-power Concord De La Salle next week.

It’s the first appearance for Don Bosco in Cincinnati since Sept. 16, 2006 when it defeated Centerville 21-0 at Nippert Stadium.

The Ironmen, which have a 24-game winning streak, return senior QB Brett Knief, a 6-1, 190-pound player who is a North Carolina baseball recruit. He passed for 1,494 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Knief and with senior TB Dillon Romain (5-11, 215) are the offensive leaders.

“Romain is a physical runner that I believe is the key to their offense,” Specht said. “They want to establish the run and then play-action with (Knief).”

The Ironmen also average about 255 pounds on the offensive line and are quick and agile off the ball.

Defensively, Bosco is similar to Prattville (Ala.) in that it likes to attack the run with eight players in the box, according to Specht.

“I wouldn’t consider them a big defense,” Specht said. “They have some big players but more so they play fast and get to the ball.”

Specht said special teams will also be key as the Ironmen have a solid kicking game and are efficient during punt coverage.

“This will be a huge key to the game,” Specht said.

The Bombers have won two consecutive games since losing to Colerain 13-8 in the opener at Nippert Stadium.

St. X, rated No. 27 in the ESPN Rise Fab 50, defeated Indianapolis Cathedral 17-3 last Friday.

One advantage St. X will have is that it hasn’t lost a home game at Ballaban Field since Specht has been the head coach.

The Bombers are led by junior QB Luke Massa, who is 24-of-50 passing for 279 yards and a touchdown. Senior WR Drew Grombala has 12 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown.

St. X senior running back Connor Earley (hip) is reportedly questionable for Saturday. Earley has 29 carries for 170 yards and a touchdown on the season.

However, St. X prides itself on defense. Junior DL Nigel Muhammad leads St. X with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

The Bombers, rated No. 4 in the Ohio High-ONN Power Poll, will certainly see a typical Greater Catholic League team when they face the reigning New Jersey state champions.

“Overall I think the key to the game is the battle up front,” Specht said. “Whoever can control the line of scrimmage and win the kicking game should come out on top.”

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