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The ride to the top was nothing short of challenging for the Moeller Crusaders in 2012. With a schedule that was filled with intense matchups each week Big Moe managed to battle their way through it winning their last six tilts as they earned the state championship trophy for the first time since 1985.
The ups and downs laced a 15-week run that watched Moeller learn and better themselves from their mistakes. It was that attention to focus and detail that made this group of Crusaders special to say the least.
Let’s take a game-by-game look at Moeller Crusaders 2012 campaign:
GAME #1 – MOELLER 35, GILMAN SCHOOL 14 – Senior leadership set the tone right out of the gate as Moeller came out victorious in the Skyline Crosstown Showdown at Kings High School in the 2012 opener. Quarterback Spencer Iacavone ran for two score and threw for a pair as the Crusaders downed visiting Gilman School from Maryland. Three second-quarter scores saw Big Moe head into halftime with a 28-0 advantage. A swarming Moeller defense led by Shane Jones and Nick Szabados stymied Gilman before intermission. Moeller was led by Keith Watkins, who ran for 117 yards, caught two balls for 40 more and had a rushing touchdown. It marked the second time in Watkins’ career that he has run for more than 100 yards in a contest. Max Foley and Gus Ragland each caught touchdown passes from Iacavone.
GAME #2 – MOELLER 42, GRAND RAPIDS CHRISTIAN 34 - The Crusaders appeared to be suffering a hangover from last week’s victory as Grand Rapids Christian jumped out to a 24-14 halftime lead. Whatever the Moeller coaching staff said at intermission was taken to heart by the team as they stormed out of the locker room to score 28 points after break and nail down a 42-34 come-from-behind victory. Watkins had career highs with 216 yards rushing, 82 receiving yards and 298 all-purpose yards. The senior had touchdown runs of 37 and 50 yards and a receiving score from 79 yards out. Iacavone threw for 166 yards with another scoring toss to Casey Pieper. The Crusaders defense stiffened after intermission and came out on top of the turnover battle 3-0. All three takeaways were by interceptions. Senior Logan Kelleher snared the first two picks of his career and classmate Jones added another.
GAME #3 – MOELLER 61, DETROIT CATHOLIC CENTRAL 33 - Up by just one point, Moeller scored right before halftime which began a 27-7 run by the end of the third quarter surging them to a road win at Detroit Catholic Central. The Crusaders dominated, racking up 606 yards of total offense as they remained unbeaten. The defense was opportunistic with five takeaways, including a fumble recovery that Dakota Sizemore returned 29 yards for a touchdown. Sam Hubbard, Kelleher and Szabados all had picks. Jones and Szabados were each in on 13 tackles. Jones also had a sack and a fumble recovery. The third quarter was an explosion of scoring that ended in a fury. Joe Eramo scored on a 3-yard run with 1:22 left in the period. Anthony Darkangelo broke off an 80-yard score on the next play from scrimmage for the Shamrocks. Eramo would return the favor darting 80 yards to paydirt. In all it would be three touchdown in a period of 29 seconds. For Eramo a senior he would finish the game with a career-high 102 yards rushing on the five carries and the two scores. Watkins lead all runners with 177 yards on 17 carries while finding the end zone four times. Ragland hauled in seven receptions for 100 yards with a touchdown. Iacavone efficiently completed 17-21 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns.
GAME #4 – MOELLER 34, LOUISVILLE ST. XAVIER 27 - Moeller kept their perfect season rolling along as they picked up another tough road win defeating Louisville St. Xavier 34-27 in their first Friday night game of the season. The Crusaders used three second-quarter touchdown drives to take command of the contest. Watkins was responsible for the first two scores on runs of three and 15 yards. Iacovone connected with Pieper on a 1-yard pass for the other six points. After leading 24-10 at the half, Big Moe appeared to put the game away when Iacovone scored another touchdown on a 9-yard keeper to give the Crusaders a 17-point lead four minutes into the third quarter. The Tigers would not go down quietly finding the end zone four minutes later. Matthew Reiniger drilled his second field goal shortly thereafter to lift the Crusaders’ lead to 34-17. St. Xavier roared back with 10 unanswered fourth-quarter points to cut the lead to seven. The clock would become Moeller’s friend and finally run out on the home team. When the dust settled the two teams would combine for 805 yards of total offense. Watkins carried the ball 16 times for 104 yards and also caught three balls for 27 yards. Iacovone completed 16-of-21 passes for 235 yards and the one touchdown toss. Pieper had seven receptions for 137 yards while finding the end zone for a third straight week. On defense Kelleher picked off his fourth pass of the year, including at least one in each of the last three contests. Junior lineman Chalmer Freuauf showed everyone of the greatness that is to come getting in on 11 tackles and registering his second sack of the season.
GAME #5 – ST. XAVIER 49, MOELLER 21 – Right out of the gate St. Xavier quarterback Nick Tensing connected with receiver Kevin Milligan on an 80-yard touchdown on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Ryan Frey would zero in on Iacavone on the next series and come up with a 32-yard pick six to give the Bombers a 14-0 lead 1:14 seconds into the contest. St. Xavier would reel off 21 unanswered second-quarter points and head into halftime with a 35-7 advantage. After losing by a combined four points in the last two weeks to other teams ranked nationally in the Rivals100, the Bombers caught the 20th ranked Crusaders in jetlag/hangover mode and never took their foot off the throttle in the GCL South opener. Big Moe just never got into the game mentally going 5-of-15 on third-down conversions as they turned the ball over three times and racked up 10 penalties for 106 yards.
GAME #6 – MOELLER 37, LASALLE 22 - The Crusaders had something to prove after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of the St. X Bombers a week earlier. Moeller came up with two big plays in the first quarter that gave them the momentum. After scoring on the opening drive, the Crusaders played an excellent series of defense forcing the Lancers to punt. Moeller blocked the punt out of the end zone for a safety giving the Crusaders and an early 9-0 lead. LaSalle looked to respond marching the ball downfield only to see their drive end in a turnover when they fumbled the ball into the Moeller end zone. The Crusaders fell on top of the ball for a touchback. The offense stormed back culminating an 80-yard drive with an Iacavone-to-Pieper touchdown pass making it 16-0 at the midway point of the first quarter. The affair quieted until LaSalle drew closer at 16-7 with 1:16 to go before half. Big Moe asserted its strength up front after intermission. Watkins would go on to score twice in the third quarter on runs of 48 yards and 47 yards, on consecutive series. He finished the evening with 22 carries for 225 yards and two touchdowns while catching three passes for 37 yards. The Moeller defensive was just as dominant as their counterparts on the other side of the ball holding the Lancer offense to only eight yards on 25 carries and recording 6.0 sacks. Jake McCluskey registered 1.5 sacks for the second time in three tilts. Freuauf also had 1.5 takedowns. Kelleher thwarted another LaSalle drive with a goal line interception in the final stanza. He led the squad with 10 total tackles while nabbing his fifth pick in five weeks. Moeller evened their GCL South record to 1-1.
GAME #7 – ELDER 17, MOELLER 13 – A grueling schedule caught up with Moeller for the second time in three weeks and it ended their conference title hopes as they fell to Elder. The elements played into the Panthers favor as rain and wind kept it a low scoring affair. The Purple Nation took a 3-0 lead into halftime. Elder played error-free, smash-mouth football while leaning heavily on tailback Chris Schroer. The junior carried the ball 30 times for 141 yards and a score. Trailing 10-7 midway through the fourth quarter the wind knocked down a Moeller punt that gave Elder great field position on the Crusaders 36-yard line. They would score the clinching points on a Josh Moore to Austin Cipriani 8-yard toss with 3:11 left in the contest. Watkins and Iacavone led Moeller to a touchdown to cut the lead to 17-13 with 1:37 left, but the Panthers were able to stave off the home team. Watkins scored both of the Crusaders touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving, while amassing 143 all-purpose yards.
GAME #8 – MOELLER 48, CATHEDRAL 13 - Moeller took a trip to Indianapolis to face Cathedral and brought home a big win, 48-13. The Crusaders scored early and often, with Watkins getting the offense started for the night. He scored two touchdowns on the ground the first quarter giving his squad a 14-0 jump. By the end of the contest, he totaled 124 yards on the ground with three total touchdowns. Iacovone ran for a game-high 128 yards with a touchdown. Three more Crusaders added to the offensive outburst with Evan Jansen, Jonathan Bucher and Eramo all finding the end zone in the fourth quarter. The Fighting Irish struggled offensively, totaling only 217 yards, compared to Moeller’s 439. McLuskey recorded two of the team’s seven sacks. Jones also registered a sack and recovered a fumble for the victors.
GAME #9 – ST. EDWARD 49, MOELLER 42 - Things were rolling along smoothly for Moeller when Ragland scored his second touchdown of the game putting the Crusaders up over visiting St. Edward 42-21 with 6:24 left in the third quarter. Moments later St. Ed’s took things into their own hands outscoring Big Moe 28-0 over the game’s final 15 minutes. In the course of 4:29 seconds the Eagles would find the end zone three times, twice on Ryan Fallon-to-Anthony Young passes and the other on a Dwayne Aaron TD run. Aaron was sensational, shredding the Moeller defense for 250 yards and four touchdowns rushing. Fallon threw for 259 yards and three scores. The Crusaders had no answers for the onslaught. The offense ran the ball for 261 yards with Watkins accounting for 175 of those. Iacavone ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, but only passed for 88 yards on the night. The Eagles made Moeller one dimensional and it paid off down the stretch.
GAME #10 – MOELLER 45, TRINITY 42 – Just when everyone thought it was time to write Moeller off they knocked off visiting Louisville Trinity in the regular season finale. The contest was highlighted by an exciting fourth-quarter scoring fury that saw the Crusaders snap the Shamrocks 33-game winning streak with a 45-42 triumph. The Crusaders were the first team to beat The Rocks since the St. Xavier Bombers did it back on October 3rd of 2009. The two squads combined for 887 yards of total offense and converted 13-of-20 third-down attempts. Moeller built a 10-point lead four times in the second half after taking a 21-14 advantage in to halftime. Every time the Crusaders went up by double digits Trinity answered with a touchdown after intermission. That quartet of scores for The Rocks all came quickly as none were more than four minutes after Moeller repeatedly matched their largest margins. The last touchdown in the contest came with 0:08 left as it would be too little, too late for Trinity. Iacavone ran for two scores and tossed two more while accounting for 177 yards of total offense. Watkins amassed 147 yards and two touchdowns on the ground for the victors. The win pushed Moeller into hosting a home playoff game versus Wayne.
GAME #11 – MOELLER 43, WAYNE 21 - Six different offensive players scored touchdowns as Moeller built a 29-7 halftime lead over visiting Wayne and then cruised to victory in the first round of the Division I, Region 4 playoffs. Iacavone tied a career high with four touchdown passes, including three in the first 12:22 of the contest as his team jumped out to a 21-0 advantage. Four different receivers caught those scoring tosses from the senior quarterback - Max Foley, Pieper, Jansen and Ragland. Big Moe would convert 9-of-13 third-down attempts and rack up 414 total yards in the tilt. Watkins ran for 110 yards for the 10th time in 11 outings while finding the end zone for the 20th time on the ground this season. This was also the fifth straight week that Moeller has scored at least 42 points.
GAME #12 – MOELLER 46, LAKOTA EAST 20 - A dominating second-quarter performance by Moeller that included 21 points and 173 yards of total offense lifted the Crusaders past Lakota East 46-20 to advance to Division I, Region 4 championship game. Watkins carried the ball just seven times on his way to 168 yards rushing and three touchdowns all in a 8:30 minute span before halftime. Lakota East got off to a great start by outgaining Big Moe 107 yards to 34 in the first quarter. The Thunderhawks' first drive lasted 14 plays, accounted for 80 yards and 7:35 of clock time. Quarterback Eric Eichler’s keeper gave the Hawks the 7-0 advantage. The Crusaders were the recipient of excellent field position on the ensuing drive thanks to a 40-yard return by Andrew Kraus. Eight plays later Reiniger booted a 40-yard field goal to put Moeller on the board. The flood gated opened in stanza two. Watkins found the end zone on a 17-yard scamper making it 10-7 in favor of big Moe. On Lakota East’s next play from scrimmage, Szabados caused a Thunderhawk fumble that was recovered by Hubbard. Two plays later it was Watkins again, this time from 40 yards out making it 17-7. Watkins would steal the show one more time with and 80-yard jaunt to paydirt just before intermission. Third-quarter rushing touchdowns Eramo (80 yards rushing) and Iacovone (95 yards rushing) pushed the advantage to 39-7 for Moeller. Eramo finished with 60 yards on the ground and Iacavone had 83 on the night.
GAME #13 – MOELLER 24, COLERAIN 21 - Moeller held off the previously unbeaten Colerain, 24-21 to win their first Regional Championship since 1997 and 12th in school history. The Crusaders managed to build a 10-7 halftime despite losing the time of possession battle to Colerain by an almost 2-to-1 margin. After intermission anytime the Crusaders needed a big play it fell on the shoulders of their seniors and their offensive line. Both executed brilliantly down the stretch. Watkins got stronger as the game wore on. The Moeller running back followed his blockers and racked up 203 of the 246 yards rushing the Crusaders would have on the night. He also had his 25th rushing touchdown of 2012. Big Moe needed every last one of Watkins yards as the passing game mustered just 40 yards and two interceptions. Things started out great for Colerain as Chris Davis ran for 28 yards on the Cardinals’ first play of the night. It would end up being be the longest run of the night for the team, but Colerain would manage another 210 yards on the ground on 44 more carries. Colerain quarterback LA Ramsby was named Southwest District Offensive Player of the Year earlier in the week, but the Crusaders defense held him in check. Ramsby, who came into the tilt with 1,535 yards passing, had a goose egg in the first half. He would finish with 114 yards through the air and a late scoring toss to Davis to pull his squad to within three at 24-21 with 1:23 left in the contest. The senior added another 78 yards rushing. On paper Colerain won most of the major statistical categories except on the scoreboard side. The Cardinals owned a 4:50 advantage in time of possession. They did not turn the ball over and had two takeaways (interceptions). The one area that let Colerain down was special teams. They missed a 40-yard field goal and gave up 78-yard punt return touchdown to Foley that energized the Crusaders in the third quarter.
GAME #14 – MOELLER 26, PICKERINGTON NORTH 21 - A cold, windy night in Dayton, Ohio featured two teams with different playoff backgrounds but the same goal, looking for a state title chance. Moeller had never lost a state semifinal game going into Saturday night’s contest, while Pickerington North has never won a playoff game coming into this postseason. Experience would prevail as the Crusaders walked away with 26-21 victory. A 32-yard field goal by Reiniger put the first points on the board as the Crusaders had an early 3-0 lead, but that advantage would be short-lived. Pickerington North’s powerful offense was on display during the team’s second drive of the night with Godwin Igwebuike breaking tackles and having back-to-back long runs for 27 and 34 yards. The Panthers’ running back set up quarterback Mason Olszewski for an easy 1-yard run into the endzone. A defense known for only giving up an average of 10 points per game came up big as Moeller drove down to the 9 yard-line, but Iacovone’s pass was intercepted by linebacker Warren Stoddard at the goal line. The story through much of the first half for the Crusader offense was the split rushing plan between Iacovone and Watkins, but teammate Eramo capped off the short drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to give Moeller the 10-7 lead with 9:29 remaining in the second quarter. Moeller threatened again in the final seconds of half, but fumbled as time expired inside the 5-yard line. On their second drive of the half Eramo started right where he left off scampering for 43 yards setting up the Crusaders inside the red zone. Moeller settled for a 22-yard field goal from Reiniger to extend their lead to 13-7. Then the third quarter turned into a rushing party as the Panthers Igwebuike opened their next drive with a 76-yard touchdown run giving his team a 14-13 lead. Igwebuile finished the evening with 167 yards on 16 totes. Moeller responded as Eramo took it 34 yards for his second touchdown of the game as the Crusaders ended the quarter with a 20-14 lead. Only a few moments into the fourth quarter however, the Panthers Olszewski completed a 55-yard touchdown pass to classmate Justin Childers cutting Big Moe’s lead to 21-20. Teams traded possessions, but it would be Kelleher who intercepted Olsewski at the North Pinkerington 44-yard line. Watkins capped of a four-minute drive by the Crusaders rushing it into the endzone from seven yards out, making the score 26-21. Moeller was unsuccessful on their two-point conversion attempt keeping the score 26-21. The Panthers offense ate up almost all of the remaining 3:41 by driving the length of the field and setting up inside the 10-yard line for a first-and-goal opportunity. As they hoped to dive across the goal line and celebrate, Igwebuike fumbled and Moeller recovered at the 1-yard line. The Crusaders would take one knee and celebrate their return to Canton for a chance to win another state title. Moeller dominated the game on the ground as they held a 320 to 193 advantage in rushing yards. Eramo finished with a career-high 154 yards and two scores on 16 carries. Watkins tallied 115 yards and a touchdown on 36 attempts while also catching three balls for 45 yards.
GAME #15 – MOELLER 20, WHITMER 12 - For the first time since 1985 the Moeller Crusaders are Ohio’s top big school football team as they won the OHSAA Division I championship game versus Toledo Whitmer, 20-12 in Canton. Senior quarterback Nick Holley completed a 37-yard pass to Michael Dzikowski for the game’s first score just over three minutes into the contest. A muffed extra point kept it at 6-0 in favor of the Panthers. Big Moe chipped away at the deficit by way of a Reiniger 27-yard field goal. At the end of the first quarter the Crusaders were down by three points. The Crusader defense struggled early on, but came up big with a fumble recovery inside their opponent’s 20-yard line. It set up Moeller’s first touchdown of the night as Iacovone completed the short 6-yard pass to Watkins, who walked into the endzone. The score came just seven seconds into the second quarter to give Big Moe their first advantage at 10-6. The defense responded to the team’s offensive success with another turnover as Kelleher intercepted a long pass attempt by Holley deep in Whitmer territory. The Crusaders capitalized with a 1-yard score on the ground from Iacovone on the ensuing possession. Moeller went into the locker room at halftime up 17-6 as they held Whitmer to no points after the game’s opening drive. The third quarter started slow with Moeller having no luck offensively. They eventually turned the ball over on a Watkins’ fumble that gave the Panthers the ball at the 15-yard line. Two plays later the brother combination of Nick and Nathan Holley hooked up for a touchdown to close the gap to just five points, making the score 17-12 at the end of the third quarter. The final quarter of play for the 2012 season was highly contested, with both teams having big plays and turnovers traded away. The biggest play of the night for Whitmer came in the final minutes with 3:41 left on the clock as they attempted a fake punt on 4th-and-10 from their own 34 yard-line, but the Panthers could not convert. That’s where Moeller took over and wound down the clock to 1:54 before Reiniger kicked a short field goal to extend their lead to 20-12. The Crusaders defense held Whitmer at the end as the clock expired. The contest was played out pretty even statistically. Both teams turned the ball over two times with Moeller holding a slight edge in total yards (315 to 304). However, the Crusaders held a seven-minute advantage in time of possession and converted nine of their 15 third-down conversions. Whitmer was able slow down the Crusaders’ rushing attack, but Iacovone made up for it by turning in a solid performance through the air. The senior completed 15 of his 19 pass attempts for 161 yards and a touchdown and added another 63 yards and a score on 11 carries. Watkins rushed the ball 22 times, but only mustered 68 yards on the ground on 22 carries. The senior did do so damage catching the ball out of the backfield though as he hauled in eight catches for 76 yards and a score.
MILESTONES AND MORE
-- The State Championship was the eighth in school history and first since 1985. This was the 31st time a Moeller team qualified to the State playoffs and 11th consecutive. Only Newark Catholic’s 32 appearances are better. The Crusaders own a 41-23 all-time in post-season play. The program now owns the best winning percentage in Ohio history at 80.0 percent with a 447-113-2 all-time record.
--How tough was the Crusaders schedule? Nine of the 10 regular season opponents qualified through to their respective State Playoffs. Five of those nine played in their State Championship game. Four of the five emerged as State Champions as Gilman, Grand Rapids, Cathedral and Trinity brought home the hardware. The fifth, Detroit Catholic, finished as runner-up. Elder, St. Edward and St. Xavier of course battled Moeller for the Ohio crown. Louisville St. Xavier, by the design of the Kentucky format, was forced to face Trinity in a Regional Final.
--Head coach John Rodenberg became just the second man to win state titles in both Ohio (Moeller) and Kentucky (Covington Catholic). Bob Lewis did it at Wyoming (OH) and Beechwood (KY. Rodenberg is now 43-18 overall in five years at the helm for Moeller, including 7-4 in the playoffs. His career has included stops at McNicholas, Covington Catholic, and Roger Bacon as he has earned a 124-87 lifetime record.
--The offense did some amazing things from team and individual perspectives despite the tough schedule. The team recorded 4,260 yards of total offense, the most in a single season by a Crusaders’ team. Their 212 first downs during the regular season were also most ever in a single season. Those are the top numbers by any team in 50 years of Crusaders’ football. Their 378 points during the regular season was the third highest season total in history as well.
--Running back Keith Watkins was named GCL South Player of the Year, First-Team All-Southwest District, First-Team All-TriStateFootball.com and Special Mention All-Ohio after running for 2,146 yards, catching 42 passes for another 499 yards while finding the end zone 28 times (25 rushing, 3 receiving). The Northwestern-bound senior ends his Crusader career with 3,045 yards rushing (5th best in school history), 258 total points (2nd best in school history), 126 regular season points (3rd best in school history), 14 games with more than 100 yards rushing (4th best in school history) and 1,482 yards rushing in a regular season (4th best in school history). Watkins is also a rare two-time 1st Team All-TriStateFootball.com selection having earned the honors as a return specialist in 2011 as a junior.
--Quarterback Spencer Iacavone threw for 4,299 yards and 44 touchdown passes in his career (both marks good enough for 2nd most in school history). He became the first Moeller signal-caller to run for more than 1,000 yards in their career finishing with 1,463 yards on the ground (20th best in school history). The First-Team All-GCL South and Enquirer All-Star will attend Marshall University in the fall on a baseball scholarship. Iacavone also threw for 19 touchdown passes during the regular season in 2011 and 13 in 2012 (the 5th and 11th highest totals in school history).
--Alex Gall was named the GCL South Co-Offensive lineman of the Year, First-Team All-Southwest District, First-Team All-TriStateFootball.com and Special Mention All-Ohio for his efforts. Gall will head to Florida and become a member of the Miami Hurricanes next season. Linemen and classmates Chris Henke was named First-Team All-GCL South andMatt Noble garnered Second-Team All-GCL South accolades. Junior Blake Chambliss was also a Second-Team All-GCL South selection.
--Receiver Casey Pieper hauled in 30 receptions for 457 yards and six touchdowns on his way to Second-Team All-GCL South honors.
--Michigan State-bound linebacker Shane Jones topped off a great career by being named the Ohio Division I, Co-Defensive Player of the Year, First-Team All-Ohio and TriStateFootball.com Cincinnati Defensive Player of the Year. Jones finished the season with 130 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, with two fumble recoveries and an interception.
--Defensive back Logan Kelleher snared eight interceptions and was named First-Team All-GCL South, Second-Team All-TriStateFootball.com and Honorable Mention All-Southwest District for his efforts.
--The defense also saw junior lineman Chalmer Frueauf his classmate and defensive back Sam Hubbard along with seniors Jake McCluskey, Nick Szaboados and Kaleb Nypaver be rewarded with Second-Team All-GCL South honors. McCluskey led the squad with 6.0 sacks while Szabados (118) and Nypaver (110) finished second and third on the team in total tackles. Frueauf was second on the team with 5.5 sacks.
--Kicker Matt Reiniger got hot at the right time connecting on eight of his 11 field goals during the playoffs. His 95 career points kicking is third best in school history and the 58 points during the regular season is second best in school history. He was named Honorable Mention All-TriStateFootball.com.
--The big foot of punter Sam Geraci set the school’s career mark for all-time punting average at 43.2 breaking a mark that had stood since 1976. His 56.8 yards on kickoffs is also a school record. He was named First-Team All-Southwest District, First-Team All-TriStateFootball.com and Special Mention All-Ohio for his efforts.
Moeller was named the TriStateFootball.com Cincy Team of the Year at last month’s TSF YEAR IN REVIEW show at Holy Grail Banks. Be sure to check out great coverage of Moeller’s sensational season on our YOUTUBE page and follow us on TWITTER and FACEBOOK for year-round high school football news.
Greg is a co-founder of TSF and is now entering his ninth season as a Featured Analyst for the website. The Xavier University grad also serves as the Content Manager for the website and is widely considered one of the top high school football experts in the region. If you are interested in covering your team, please CONTACT US.