Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Adjustments help Kirtland pull away from Independence

INDEPENDENCE — Kirtland entered Friday night’s game at Independence’s Alumni Field at Stan Skoczen Stadium averaging 34.6 points per game.

At halftime the Hornets had scored just six.

“We went in and tried to figure out what the heck was going on offensively,” Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde said. “Some of the other coaches and I, we saw a couple things we could take advantage of.”

Those adjustments led to three third quarter touchdowns as Kirtland topped Independence 27-11.

“The quarterback got going a little bit and they left a little room up the middle and then we started to run off tackle,” LaVerde said. “Quite simply we just started executing.”

Sophomore running back Joey Torok was one player in particular who got going in the third frame.

Torok finished the contest with 208 yards on 21 carries, which included a 56-yard dash that ballooned the Hornets lead to 27-3 late in the third.

“He’s a good back,” LaVerde said. “He’s little. He’s shifty. He’s strong, and he doesn’t go down and he takes care of the football.”

And he wasn’t the only Hornet to break a long touchdown run.

Quarterback Dylan Fulco busted free for a 37-yard score that gave Kirtland a 13-3 lead early in the third.

Junior offensive lineman Brett Diemer also found pay dirt, rumbling in from three yards out.

“They did what they do and pounded the ball,” Independence coach Rick Adams said.

“We won three quarters. We won the other three quarters 11-6. They outplayed us in one quarter and that’s the big difference.”

Independence senior quarterback Ben Artrip worked more than expected as his platoon quarterback—junior Kyle Stefanski–got injured in the second half. Artrip did most of his damage on the turf, rushing for 131 yards on 18 carries. He found senior wide receiver Jason Bianco on a 20-yard catch and throw for the Blue Devils lone score in the second half.

The Blue Devils accumulated just 262 yards of total offense, as opposed to Kirtland’s 465.

“I think our defense played very well,” LaVerde said. “When they go shotgun, five-wide, you have to mix up what you’re in and I thought the defense did a nice job keeping them out of the end zone.”

It was a mistake-riddled first half for both sides. The Blue Devils–who struggled to run the ball the majority of the night–were plagued by five dropped passes during the first 24 minutes.

The Hornets weren’t crisp either.

While Kirtland moved the ball relatively well via the ground game, penalties–four totaling 30 yards–put them behind the sticks and stalled multiple drives.

Independence broke through first as Stefanski came off the bench and piloted a drive with his arm.

Stefanski found three different receivers and set up junior kicker Ian Smith, who nailed a 31-yard field goal.

Kirtland answered.

And quickly.

Torok, after being initially stymied near the line of scrimmage, squirmed free and shed numerous would-be tacklers on his way to a 72-yard score on the second play of the ensuing drive.

The Hornets had an opportunity to add to that total, driving inside the Independence 30-yard line late in the half, but a lost fumbled thwarted any such hope.

The 6-0 Hornets host Cardinal next week while the Blue Devils, who dropped to 4-2, travel to Hawken. 

Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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