AURORA—Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde couldn’t help but flash back to last season during the final moments of the Hornet’s 20-14 win over Mogadore in a Division VI regional championship game at Veterans Stadium on Friday.
In last year’s regional semifinals, Mogadore nearly scored on its final play of the game in Kirtland’s 34-28 win. Last night, again trailing by six, the Wildcats had one play near midfield to tie the game but the Hornets held to advance to their seventh state Final Four in the last eight seasons.
“The quarterback ran the ball, which I was happy to see,” LaVerde said. “Once he crossed the line the time ran out and we just had to get the ball down. Dawson Cosgrove made a nice tackle out there to end it.”
Mogadore certainly gave Kirtland all it could handle, especially in the early goings.
Kirtland went three-and-out on its first possession for the first time all season. The Hornets had previously scored on its first possession in 10 of 12 games.
The Hornets fumbled away the ball on their second drive and the Wildcats drove to the Kirtland five before four straight penalties moved them back to the 45. That promising drive ended up in a punt.
Joey Torok broke the scoreless tie when he ran for a 65-yard touchdown on third-and-nine with 6:59 left in the first half. Mario Rodin’s extra point gave the Hornets a 7-0 lead.
A Mason Sullivan interception set the Hornets up at the Mogadore 33 with 2:23 left in the half but Rodin’s 33-yard field goal attempt was blocked and Kirtland settled for a 7-0 lead at the break.
Kirtland’s only drive of the third quarter ended in an interception and the Wildcats drove 46 yards on 10 plays and tied the game on Logan Penix’s two-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“That’s a good football team, there’s no question about it,” LaVerde said. “We knew coming in it was going to be a hard fought game. Our kids prepare year-round to play four quarters like that and it was fun. It was back and forth all night. We were up and they tied it then we had a drive and they had a drive.”
Kirtland quickly recaptured the lead when Tommy Powers threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Torok three plays after Mogadore’s touchdown. Rodin added the extra point to put Kirtland up, 14-7, with 11:17 left in the game.
Mogadore put together an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by Penix’s one-yard touchdown plunge with 5:56 left.
With the game tied, 14-14, the Hornets took over at their own 32.
“I’m glad we had the ball last because the offenses were starting to click a little bit as the game went on,” LaVerde said.
The Hornets advanced the ball to the Mogadore 31 but faced a third-and-nine in what was four-down territory.
Jake Neibecker, who ran for 58 yards on 13 carries, broke several tackles on the way to a nine-yard run and a Kirtland first down.
“That was a big play,” LaVerde said. “We ran that play thinking we were going to run two plays. We weren’t going to punt from where we were with a minute left. We were hoping we could get four or five and have a manageable fourth down and we ended up getting it.”
Torok scored his third touchdown of the night on a three-yard run five plays later with just 15 seconds left in the game.
“We missed the extra point so we were up six and any fluke thing could happen and you lose,” LaVerde said. “When you’re up six, that always makes you a little nervous. The kids did a good job.”
Mogadore took over at its 37 and picked up seven yards on first down. Quarterback Luke Rosato dropped back to pass on second down but saw an opening and took off as time expired.
A few laterals later and Cosgrove’s open-field tackle ended the game.
“It was a fun game,” LaVerde said. “Mogadore played its tail off. They have nothing to be ashamed about. That’s a good football team.”
Torok led the Hornets with 166 rushing yards on 15 carries. He also added the 47-yard TD reception. Powers completed 4-of-6 passes for 62 yards.
Kirtland will play Fort Frye in a state semifinal on Friday at a site to be determined. The Hornets last played Fort Frye in the 2012 regional quarterfinals. Kirtland won that game, 49-7.