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The long, storied football rivalry of Moeller and Princeton high schools gets renewed Friday night.
At the neutral site of Mason High School, the Crusaders and Vikings will tangle in an Ohio High School Athletic Association Division I regional semifinal.
"It was just us and them back in those days," former Princeton coach Pat Mancuso said of the seasonal slugfest with Moeller.
Mancuso is almost 93 and hopes to attend, as does the 86-year-old father of Moeller football, Gerry Faust.
"It's a great rivalry and Mancuso's a great football coach," Faust said of their glory days.
The last postseason game
Friday will be the first Moeller/Princeton matchup in a state playoff game since 1993. As documented by then-Enquirer reporter Dave Schutte, Steve Klonne's Moeller Crusaders defeated Mancuso's Princeton Vikings 28 years ago, 18-15.
Matt Keller (Ohio State) had 81 yards rushing and Mike Green completed just five passes for 53 yards. Princeton was held to 65 yards rushing and 39 passing. Both of the Viking scores came on interception returns.
Klonne coached Moeller from 1982-2000, taking over from Ted Bacigalupo, who manned the fort in 1981 after Faust left in 1980 for Notre Dame.
The winner of the Moeller/Princeton, Greater Catholic League vs. Greater Miami Conference game used to get the traveling trophy, The King of the Block. The victory hardware currently resides at Moeller where it was on display this week.
Dating back to Faust's last season at Moeller, the Crusaders put a priority on the Princeton game. Their goal was to win the GCL and beat Princeton's Vikes.
Despite that, Faust was close to Mancuso; the coaching staff and players knew and respected one another. Just a few years ago, former Moeller running back Hiawatha Francisco was an administrator at Princeton, which brought on some teasing by Mancuso. Before he wore Princeton's red, he wore out Princeton.
From 1975-85, of 11 state championships the OHSAA awarded, Moeller won seven and Princeton three. Faust finished his Moeller career 178-23-2 and was an amazing 70-1 in his final six seasons, with the one loss coming to Mancuso's Vikings in 1978. Also in that '75-'85 decade, Bacigalupo was 12-1 and Klonne was 46-3.
"Football in Cincinnati was the best in the state of Ohio," Faust said. "It still is to this day I think."
Each year had another angle. In 1985, an Enquirer column with the headline: "Moeller good but Princeton better" fueled the Crusaders to a 24-12 win.
"Needless to say, that provided bulletin board material and plenty of fire," '85 state championship team member Brent Brisben said.
That was one of Moeller's five state titles under Faust, which included four national titles.
The Viking way
Pat Mancuso coached Princeton from 1960 until 1997, winning state titles in 1978, 1983 and 1987.
In 1978, Moeller had been dominant, but a Princeton field goal topped the Crusaders early in the season, 13-12. The Vikings got the nod via the old Harbin ratings and eventually gave Mancuso his first state title.
Their 1980 matchup was so big, it was televised on cable by Warner Amex (now Time-Warner Cable/Spectrum). Many games are streamed now, but 41 years ago putting a high school game on television was a rarity.
On their way to the 1983 state championship, Princeton had lost to Moeller 28-21 in the last game of the season. A week later, they beat them 28-21 at Galbreath Field as their championship march continued.
"We won state that year but there's no doubt that either one of us would have won," Mancuso said. "I think we were the best two teams in the state that year. That's the way it use to be. We would play them in the 10th game and then we'd have to play them in the first game of the playoffs."
The initial OHSAA playoff process only took one team from a region, then four, then eight. Now, 16 teams qualify with only one advancing to the state semifinals.
The last non-playoff meeting
Moeller and Princeton last met in the regular season in 2008, when Princeton led at halftime 10-7, but the Crusaders prevailed 27-17. Future LSU and NFL running back Spencer Ware was the Viking quarterback who threw for 275 yards and ran for 123 that night. Moeller quarterback Andrew Hendrix (Notre Dame, Miami University) was 8-for-10 passing and running back Patrick Blanks ran for 99 yards and three scores.
It was John Rodenberg's first game as Moeller coach. He's the last Crusader chief to win a state title off Montgomery Road, winning back-to-back in 2012 and 2013.
From 1965 through 2008, Moeller has won 37 of the 44 contests they've played with Princeton. The Vikings first won Sept. 9, 1966, 14-6 when tailback Carlton Hoyles scored two touchdowns and added a two-point conversion.
Still, many remember the big crowds for high school football when the Crusaders and Vikings would do battle during those Faust/Mancusco years. Some of the games were moved to the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium for space.
"I think we'd get 18 to 24,000 per year," Faust said.
Added Mancuso, "We packed it. We liked playing down there and they did too. It was a good setting."
Putting it on film
A documentary is in the works on the series with partners Branson Wright, Jarrid Brunswick, Joddy Eric Mathews and James Ralston.
A crew will be at Friday's contest and the working title of the feature is called "The Game" with a hopeful 2022 release date. The project is six years in the making with Friday's matchup being an answer to a prayer.
Wright, a 1981 School for Creative and Performing Arts graduate, is very familiar with the 70s and 80s runs of the Crusaders and Vikings.
"It was Princeton and Moeller, who ya got?" Wright said. "Which side are you on? It represents Southwest Ohio football. Hopefully, we can get Moeller and Princeton going again."
They've already interviewed Faust along with former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who discussed recruiting the two schools. Tressel was an Ohio State assistant in those days in charge of recruiting Southwest Ohio. One of his recruits was tight end Alex Higdon, a USA Today All-American out of Princeton. He went on to OSU, the NFL Falcons and is currently a sports psychologist.
"He said they really liked players that played in big rivalries, that knew about stepping up and playing under pressure," Wright said of Tressel.
The filmmaker described the Gerry Faust basement as a museum with memorabilia from Moeller, Notre Dame and Akron along with numerous articles on the wall.
Wright, a 30-year sportswriter, said he always liked to write what he wanted to read.
"It's a film I always wanted to see," he said. "It's a passion project."
This year's teams
Moeller bounced back from a 3-6 season in 2020 to finish 9-3, earning the OHSAA Division I, Region 4 top seed by way of the computer rankings. Beating No. 1 (at the time) Lakewood St. Edward 28-21 in their third consecutive overtime game was key. In the playoffs they've defeated Oak Hills and Fairfield, scoring 35 points in each contest.
In his second year, coach Mark Elder has the No. 3 passer in the GCL-South in Noah Geselbracht (who missed two games), the No. 2 rusher in sophomore Jordan Marshall and the No. 3 receiver in Tennell Bryant.
"Coach (Elder) is doing a good job," Faust said. "The kids are starting to come back to Moeller. It's a great school."
Princeton went 7-1 with sophomore T.J. Engleman at quarterback when senior Mekhi Lynn was hurt. They suffered their lone loss at the time to Lakota West, 24-0. Since Lynn has returned, they are 4-0. Engleman is still among the GMC passing and rushing leaders, with Rodney Harris II and Jaleel Engleman topping the league in receiving.
Under first-year coach Andre Parker, the Vikings have defeated Walnut Hills and Sycamore in the playoffs.
"I go to every game," Mancuso said. "Oh boy, they've got a lot of speed. They're a good team, well-coached."
The winner of this lastest Block party takes on the winner of St. Xavier/Lakota West on Friday, Nov. 19, for a shot at the state semifinals.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Ohio high school football: Moeller and Princeton renew rivalry Friday