CANFIELD—Tommy Gogolin ran for a school-record 363 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Kirtland’s 41-6 win over Fort Frye in a Division VI state semifinal on Saturday.
Gogolin carried just 18 times but was nearly unstoppable against the Cadets.
“It’s amazing,” said Gogolin, who averaged over 20 yards per carry. “It’s so fun to come out here and compete with these guys. The offensive line, obviously, blocked amazing all night. Hats off to everybody; there are so many people to thank, it’s just awesome.”
Fort Frye accumulated just 222 yards of offense on 52 plays.
Gogolin topped that with 19 touches for 395 yards of offense, thanks to his one catch for a 32-yard gain.
He ran for touchdowns of 61 and 65 yards, and he set up one of Rocco Alfieri’s four scores with a 76-yard run to the Fort Frye three.
“They had everybody up in the box and they were playing with two high safeties,” Gogolin said of the Fort Frye defense. “We had some opportunities to get up the middle and just split the two of them. Then, there were some opportunities where these offensive linemen and tight ends, and everybody was blocking.”
Kirtland started fast thanks to the slash-and-dash running of Gogolin and Alfieri.
Alfieri carried five times for 38 yards and Gogolin added 42 yards on five carries on the opening possession, capped by Alfieri’s six-yard touchdown run with 8:15 left in the opening quarter.
The Hornets drove 80 yards on 11 plays to take an early 7-0 lead.
Fort Frye responded with a solid drive that ended when Will Sayle picked off a pass inside the Kirtland five and returned it to the eight.
Kirtland then marched 92 yards on 13 plays—the big one a 46-yard pass from Jake LaVerde to older brother Phil LaVerde that got the Hornets out of the shadow of their own end zone.
Alfieri scored on a four-yard run and Nick Barisic’s second extra point of the game made it 14-0 with 10:37 left in the half.
Faced with a 4th-and-6 at the Kirtland 41, the Cadets opted to punt and pinned the Hornets at their own six, but LaVerde hit Gogolin for 32 yards on first down and then Gogolin broke a 52-yard run to set Kirtland up at the Fort Frye 10.
Alfieri scored on a six-yard run two plays later to push the Kirtland lead to 20-0.
Fort Frye once again threatened but Gino Blasini recorded the first of his two interceptions and Gogolin scored on a 61-yard run two plays later to send the Hornets into the break with a 27-0 lead.
Kirtland stuffed the Cadets on 4th-and-3 at the Hornet 46 on the first possession of the second half, but Fort Frye held on Kirtland’s fourth-down try and then put together a six-play, 80-yard drive capped by Owen Brown’s one-yard touchdown run that cut the Kirtland lead to 27-6 with 4:30 left in the third quarter.
Two plays later, Gogolin ran for a 65-yard score.
Gogolin’s 76-yard run set up Alfieri’s fourth score of the night with 6:30 remaining in the game.
Kirtland outgained Fort Frye, 556-222, and won the turnover battle, 3-1.
“Everybody stepped up,” said Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde. “The secondary was great—Gino had two interceptions and Will Sayle had one near the end zone—and the offensive line was terrific. Those guys up front are just warriors. Now, we need one more great week of preparation. We know what’s ahead of us and it’s going to be a tough task.”
With the win, the Hornets improved to 15-0 for the fifth time since 2011 and will play in a sixth straight state final and 11th championship game in the past 12 seasons.
The Hornets will play Marion Local, who improved to 15-0 with a 27-0 win over Columbus Grove in the other Division VI state semifinal.
All season long, Kirtland and Marion Local seemed to be on a collision course to square off for the state title and now, that matchup is a reality.
“We’re just going to get back to work like we do every day,” LaVerde said. “Starting tomorrow, hopefully, we’ll have a great week of practice and try to play our best game of the year on Saturday.”
Kirtland and Marion Local will play for the Division VI state championship at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.