MENTOR—South Range entered Saturday’s night’s Division V regional championship game with a perfect 9-0 record and ranked third in the state of Ohio. The Raiders also came in with what they thought was a perfect game plan to dethrone the reigning Division V and back-to-back state champion Kirtland Hornets.
Two early touchdown passes helped the Hornets build an early lead and they held on for their fourth straight regional championship and ninth in 10 years.
“Teams know what we do,” Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde said. “I know they plan to put 10 in the box. We want to make them pay and we have a quarterback and some skill guys that can do that. We did that tonight and backed them up a little bit and when we got a lead, we did what we typically do and just try to grind the clock and just move the ball.”
After South Range came up a foot short on fourth-and-12 during the game’s opening possession, Liam Powers threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Anthony DeMarco on Kirtland’s first play from scrimmage.
South Range responded with a touchdown of its own but the extra point was blocked and Powers connected with Joey Grazia on a 65-yard touchdown pass on Kirtland’s third offensive play to push the Hornet lead to 14-6 late in the first quarter.
Powers made it 21-6 with a one-yard TD plunge early in the second quarter but again South Range responded to pull to within 21-13.
Mason Sullivan scored on a four-yard run to make it 28-13 with 30 seconds left in the half. Sullivan closed out the first drive of the second half with a 22-yard touchdown run but the Raiders didn’t fold.
South Range scored on a six-yard run midway through the third and then shut down the Hornets on a fourth-and-5 attempt at the Raider 36.
The Raiders drove 64 yards on eight plays, assisted by a Kirtland personal foul, to pull to with 35-27 with 11:17 remaining in the game.
Powers ran for a four-yard touchdown with 5:04 left to give the Hornets some breathing room.
Grazia then picked off a pass near midfield and returned it to the South Range six and DeMarco scored two plays later to make it 49-27.
A South Range touchdown pass made it interesting with 2:55 left but Sullivan broke off a 43-yard run and slid down at the one-yard line to help the Hornets run out the remaining time.
“They scored a bunch of points,” LaVerde said of the Raiders. “We were lucky to score a few more.”
Luck might have played a role but individual effort certainly contributed to the outcome.
Powers completed 5-of-7 passes for 222 yards and two scores. Sullivan ran for 241 yards on 28 carries and Grazia caught two passes for 108 yards, including one 43-yard reception on third-and-11 early in the fourth quarter with the Hornets leading by just eight points.
“He ran a good route and Liam threw a perfect ball,” LaVerde said of the first-down connection. “Liam Powers deserves a lot of credit. He threw some good balls tonight and is the reason we ended up with 49 points. Mason did a great job, they all did. Gage (Sullivan) caught some balls. He caught a big third down and six down here. They all did a nice job, offensively. Defensively, it wasn’t our best night but we did enough to win.”
Kirtland outgained South Range, 502-360, despite running six fewer plays.
But, the Hornets did allow 35 points for just the fourth time in 10 years and 141 games.
“It’s always a concern,” LaVerde said. “We’re going to find out who we play, get the film and do our best to limit what they do. This team came out and executed, moved the ball but fortunately, we executed too and moved the ball and didn’t punt.”
Kirtland will play Tontogany Otsego in Saturday’s state semifinal game at Byers Field in Parma. The Knights defeated Pemberville Eastwood in the Region 18 championship game, 31-21.