Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Fast start leads Kirtland to postseason win over Liberty

KIRTLAND—A dominating first half led Kirtland to a 40-13 win over visiting Liberty in a Division VI, Region 21 quarterfinal at Rogers Field on Friday.

The Hornets scored touchdowns on their first five offensive possessions of the game and didn’t allow a Liberty first down in building a 34-0 halftime lead.

“That was a real important start for us,” said Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde. “We had five drives in the first half and we scored five touchdowns. The kids executed really well and we held them without a first down in the first half. We had all three and outs and we kept scoring. That was the key to the whole game, how our kids came out and executed.”

The win was the eighth straight for the Hornets in Week 11 contests. During that span, Kirtland has outscored its opponents, 350-35.

Kirtland’s first touchdown came via a 30-yard pass from Dylan Fulco to Brandon Samsa on 3rd-and-1.

The Leopards committed to stopping the run, leaving Samsa alone in the secondary.

“They put 11 in the box and Dylan made a good throw and they forgot the tight end,” LaVerde said. “He was wide open back there.”

Liberty’s first offensive drive started at its own 14 and ended at the 5 but the Hornets fumbled away the punt.

Kirtland’s defense rose to the challenge and forced another Leopard punt.

Liberty recorded just 23 first-half yards.

“Defensively, they did fantastic,” LaVerde said. “That kid (Dra Rushton) is a heck of a ballplayer. Our kids did a nice job. They hustled in the first half. We just didn’t want him to break any long ones. The touchdowns they got in the second half, they had to drive it. They didn’t really break a long one, which was our goal.”

Joey Torok’s 4-yard touchdown run gave the Hornets a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter and Fulco and Jake Neibecker both found the end zone in the second quarter. Fulco scored on a 14-yard run while Neibecker had touchdown runs of 2 and 5 yards.

Torok bounced off of a couple of defenders on a 21-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter. He finished with a game-high 105 yards on 11 carries.

“I was just bouncing off dudes,” Torok said of his second touchdown run. “I kept my balance and there was nobody left, so I just kind of strolled in the end zone.”

Neibecker added 91 yards on 19 carries and Mike Zeuli pitched in with 78 yards on eight touches. The Hornets ran for 333 yards behind center Austin Fulco and the rest of the offensive line.

“Over the season, we’ve melded together,” Fulco said of the big guys up front. “We’re brothers on the line. It’s the trenches, it’s all over the place, so all we’ve got to do is make sure we know our assignments and get it done. Get a guy, helmet on helmet and make sure we get our job done.”

Kirtland, the No. 3 seed in the region, will play second-seeded Mogadore in a regional semifinal next Friday at a location to be determined. The Hornets and Wildcats last met in the 2013 postseason, a 45-7 Kirtland win.

This time, Mogadore is the higher seed.

“It doesn’t matter, “LaVerde said. “It’s a neutral site game and wherever they put us we’re going to show up and prepare all week really hard and try to go 1-0.”

Steve Harehttp://www.ohiovarsity.com
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes OhioVarsity.com, 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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