CHESTERLAND—The statistics from Saturday’s Division VI regional championship game at Howell Field explain how Kirtland turned a 13-6 halftime lead into a 34-13 win over Cuyahoga Heights.
Cuyahoga Heights went 0 for 5 on fourth down tries in the second half. Three of those failed fourth down attempts came from inside the Redskins’ 30 and led to 14 Kirtland points.
“I think they maybe thought they could catch something,” said Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde. “One of them was 4th-and-1, which they’re usually pretty good at. They have big guys up front and they run off tackle very well. I think (Evan) Madden just found a seam and hit the kid right when he got the ball. It was a fantastic play.”
Kirtland and Cuyahoga Heights both punted the ball away on their first offensive possessions of the game.
Joey Bates gave the Hornets a 6-0 lead when he ran 41 yards for a score on the first play of Kirtland’s second possession. The Redskins tied it on Lucas D’Orazio’s 2-yard run midway through the second quarter.
LaVerde then made a coaching decision that quickly paid dividends.
Rather than attempt a fourth down try from the Cuyahoga Heights 38 he sent Bates out to punt the football. Bates’ kick was downed at the Redskins’ 4.
Two plays later Bates jumped on a loose ball and gave the Hornets a 1st-and-goal at the Cuyahoga Heights 2. Bates scored on the next play to make it 13-6 with 1:42 left in the half.
“We kind of just took advantage of some of their mistakes, which was unfortunate,” LaVerde said. “They fumbled and we got a touchdown there.”
Things got worse for the Redskins in the second half.
On 4th-and-9 from their own 21, the Redskins faked a punt but Madden blew through the line and stopped quarterback/punter Brett Lowther for a two yard loss. Bates scored on a 7-yard run five plays later to make it 20-6.
“On the fake punt I just saw a gap and shot it,” Madden said. “That put me in the right place to make a play.”
Madden was responsible for several key stops in the game.
“Evan Madden played an incredible game on defense,” LaVerde said. “We wouldn’t be where we are at without that guy, that’s for sure.”
The Redskins again went for it on 4th-and-1 from their own 30 and again the Hornets’ defense stuffed the play. David Allchin scored on an 8-yard run four plays later to push Kirtland’s lead to 27-6.
“In the third quarter the wind had them backed up,” LaVerde said. “We just took advantage of the wind. All of our touchdowns until that last one were short fields into the wind. I don’t think our offense was that great tonight. The defense played well and we took advantage of some of their mistakes.”
Another failed fourth down attempt set up Kirtland’s final score of the game, a 1-yard run by Vinny Matticoli with 5:45 left to play.
The Redskins scored on a Dylan Drummond fumble recovery with 4:01 left in the game.
Kirtland outgained Cuyahoga Heights, 225-125. The Hornets rushed for 223 yards with Bates picking up a game-high 119 on 20 carries.
With the win, the Hornets improved to 12-1 and will play in the state semifinals for the fifth straight season.
“Every week we say we’re going to compete,” LaVerde said. “That’s it, compete every play, grind it out and see where it ends up and right now we’re win the Final Four. I’m very proud of these kids. We didn’t know what was going to come out of this year. These kids have worked hard and here they are sitting there with a chance to play in a state semifinal. It’s awesome because its’s special for these kids.”
The opponent and location of the game will be announced on Sunday.