CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — Lamar Sperling’s case for Mr. Football keeps getting stronger.
He thought a 158-yard rushing performance Friday night with four touchdowns in Archbishop Hoban’s 32-20 win at Walsh Jesuit wasn’t his best effort.
“Me personally, I didn’t feel like I played to the best of my ability,” Sperling said. “Caleb Jones was the better man on the running side. There’s a lot to be worked on. Overall, it’s good that the team got the ‘dub.’ I thank my O-line and receivers for blocking.”
That offensive line and those receivers helped Jones, another 5-foot-9 running back, gain 111 yards on 10 carries in relief of Sperling. They led Hoban (6-0), the No. 1-ranked team in the cleveland.com high school football Top 25, to 434 total yards with 277 on the ground.
Caught in a back-and-forth slugfest for much of the first half with No. 16 Walsh Jesuit (4-2), Sperling extended a one-point lead with his second rushing touchdown by running up the gut of the Warriors’ defense on a 1-yarder with 1:22 left in the second quarter.
The score remained 20-13 until the first play of the fourth quarter, as Sperling scored again on a 4-yard run. He finished the drive with four consecutive carries for the final 30 yards.
Late in the fourth, he provided the knockout blow with a 52-yard TD run out of a jumbo set at midfield.
That marked the last of his 27 carries for what Sperling called not his best.
“His standard is high like the team’s standard is high,” Hoban coach Tim Tyrrell said. “We’re not happy with that game. We made too many mistakes, too many penalties. We left 20 points on the field. We can’t do that with penalties.”
Hoban committed nine penalties for 65 yards, but overcame that in a rematch of last year’s OHSAA Division II regional finals.
“They always come to compete,” Sperling said of the Warriors. “It’s a good way to see where we’re actually at. When we play them, it’s more than just football. It’s personal.”
Walsh Jesuit, which begins its Crown Conference title defense next week at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, gave Hoban one of its toughest games last year early in the regular season. The Warriors played the Knights into double overtime before Hoban prevailed, 35-34. In the regional finals, Hoban won again by a more convincing 49-30 margin.
Again, Walsh tried to push the pace with a no-huddle offense that yielded some positive results in the early stages. Coach Nick Alexander’s team marched downfield and took a 7-0 lead on the first possession, culminating with senior quarterback Ryan Kerscher’s 5-yard run.
Hoban answered with Sperling’s first TD run, then took the lead — which it maintained the rest of the way — on junior quarterback JacQai Long’s 1-yard sneak in the second quarter.
Kerscher added another score on a 15-yard scramble midway through the second, but Hoban blocked the extra point. Down 14-13, Walsh could not pull any closer in front of 5,000 spectators at Conway Memorial Stadium in Cuyahoga Falls.
The home team added a touchdown on the final play, as Kerscher hooked up with John Keough on a 35-yard pass. Kerscher finished with 21 yards on 23 of 45 passing. He rushed for another 31 yards on nine carries, while Hoban sacked him just twice.
Hoban will play its final home game of the regular season Friday next week at Dowed Field against St. Francis from Athol Springs, NY It is another out-of-state opponent for the Knights, who have already beaten a state title contender from Pennsylvania and a state champion from New York.
Sperling already had more than 1,200 yards rushing in the first half of the season against that competition, which included 232 yards last week against St. Ignatius, to strengthen his case for Ohio’s most prestigious individual award in high school football.
“I think he is Mr. Football,” Tyrrell said of the Buffalo commit. “Anybody else that people talk about, in my eyes, are great football players. He does something that others don’t. He’s the total package. He’s the best tailback in the state of Ohio in my eyes.”