SOLON—It took just a few seconds for the ball to travel the nearly 50 yards from Mogadore quarterback Luke Rosato’s right hand to the open arms of wide receiver Conner Kerr in the final minute of the Wildcats’ Division VI, Region 21 semifinal against Kirtland on Friday, yet Kirtland head coach Tiger LaVerde experienced a bevy of different emotions during the ball’s short flight through the frigid air at Stewart Field.
Kerr caught the ball but Kirtland’s Matthew Krulc recovered his fumble at their own 4-yard line to preserve a 34-28 victory.
“The dude just chucked it as far as he could,” LaVerde said of Rosato’s pass. “I know we’ve got four deep and I’m like, ‘This is good,’ until I saw that the green jersey was way behind our guy and I said, ‘This could be bad,’ and then he caught it and I said, ‘Dang it,’ and then he tackled him and the kid fumbled. I said, ‘Ooh, maybe we’ll get the fumble.’ It was about six changes of emotions. I’ve never seen a game end like that one. That could have went either way. We were very fortunate.”
Kirtland’s Mike Zeuli, who picked off a pair of passes earlier in the game, was one of the four defensive backs deep in coverage on that wild play. He was the first Hornet to make contact with Kerr after the catch.
“It was crazy,” Zeuli said. “He just dropped it. As I was wrapping him up the ball was just out and I just held on to him.”
The Hornets seemed to have the game in hand after scoring the first 12 points of the second half to take a 34-22 lead with 7:34 left in the game.
Palmer Capretta’s pass break up on a 4th-and-8 play gave the Hornets the ball at the Mogadore 38 with just 6:41 left, but the Wildcats held and took over possession at the 30 with four minutes left on the clock.
“They ran a seam route and he played it perfectly,” LaVerde said. “It was fourth down so we just knocked it down and we got the ball right there. That was a turning point.”
Rosato threw a 64-yard pass to Kyle Coffman and Gavin Christy capped the two-play, 17-second scoring drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to pull the Wildcats to within one score.
Kirtland recovered Mogadore’s onside kick attempt and even picked up a first down on the drive, but the Wildcats’ defense again held with 58 seconds left in Mogadore’s season.
“We should have been able to put it away with a couple of first downs,” LaVerde said. “You have to give them credit, they play great defense and their kids got to the ball and hustled. It was a great high school football game.”
Kirtland opened the game with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Fulco to Joey Torok.
Fulco finished 7-of-8 passing for 133 yards and he threw three touchdown passes. He also ran for 50 yards on 13 carries.
Dylan Aquila’s 25-yard touchdown catch gave the Hornets a 15-7 lead late in the first quarter and Zeuli caught a 14-yard scoring pass in the second quarter.
Rosato completed just 9-of-19 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Jake Neibecker carried 22 times for a game-high 149 yards to lead the Hornets’ rushing attack.
Kirtland, the No. 3 seed in the regional, will play No. 1 Rootstown on Nov. 17 for the regional championship.