CANTON—Kirtland’s undersized defensive line overachieved for the first 14 weeks of the 2017 season.
The Hornets met their match in a 34-11 loss to defending state champion Marion Local in Saturday’s Ohio High School Athletic Association title game at Tom Benson Stadium.
“They’ve got great size on the line,” said Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde. “They have two running backs, when they put the big guys in, they’re big and they’re heavy and they run hard. They’ve got great size. The quarterback’s big and they’ve got a big wide out they throw it up to. Their size makes it difficult. We have a good-sized offensive line but defensively, besides one or two big guys, we’re not very big. These kids scrap and play hard and I love them. Their size was probably I would say was the biggest thing that hurt our defense.”
That size helped the Flyers outgain the Hornets, 331-184, with 153 rushing yards and 178 through the air. Kirtland managed just 127 rushing yards in the game.
The Hornets took the early momentum when they opened the game with a 14-play, 51-yard drive capped by Dylan Aquila’s 33-yard field goal.
Kirtland’s defense then forced a quick three-and-out but the Hornets fumbled away the punt and the Flyers took over at the Kirtland 40.
Marion Local went on to score 34 unanswered points.
“We have a great drive and then we get a three-and-out; we would have had the ball again,” LaVerde said. “We get on our kids to catch the punt when we’re on turf because, as a coaching staff, if that thing can hit, it can roll 30 yards. We do this drill every day where we catch punts every single day and we get on them to make sure we catch the punt even if you’ve got to fair catch it. Our kids, they’re going to try to catch it. That one was real short and probably wouldn’t have bounced, it might have even bounced backwards, but in his mind, we coach him up to catch it and he’s doing his best to catch it. He did not make a mental error, that’s what he was supposed to do. I will never get upset at a kid that makes a physical error. Mental errors, I get a little bit upset with, physical errors, every kid’s trying their best out there. He didn’t catch it and that was a turnover and they end up scoring, but that wasn’t the difference in the ball game. You guys were there.”
Kirtland punted on four of its final six possessions with another ending the first half.
The Hornets added a six-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Fulco to Joey Torok with 2:29 left in the game. Mike Zeuli scored the two-point conversion to close out the scoring.
That drive covered 70 yards on 15 plays.
Fulco completed 7 of 9 passes for 57 yards and Jake Neibecker led the Hornets with 76 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Zeuli caught two passes for 19 yards.
“I’m probably going to cherish just being with these guys and all the team dinners, everything we got to do, all the fun stuff,” Zeuli said of what he’ll take away from the state tournament experience. “Even in practice, all the little things, it’s a once in a lifetime.”
The Hornets, who played in their sixth championship game in the past seven years, graduate a large group of seniors but return a talented junior class.
The expectation for next year remains the same as it has during the past runs to Week 15.
“It didn’t go our way today but I’m very, very proud of these kids,” LaVerde said. “I’m going to enjoy this time, we have a 30-day no-contact period, and I know these kids, they go above and beyond. They will be working hard, these young kids, to try to get back. They’re very, very motivated young men and they’ve learned from these kids. The junior class is a special group and that’s our goal, to obviously win Week 1 next year.”