Hornets earn 32nd straight win

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SHAKER HEIGHTS—Leave it to the Kirtland Hornets to make lemonade out of lemons, or in this case, they turned an uncharacteristic sloppy first half of play at Shaker Heights on Saturday into their 32nd straight win and a momentum-builder for the rest of the season.

The Hornets, who rallied in the second half to defeat the Red Raiders, 35-10, had their offense held scoreless in the first half for the first time since 2016, which also corresponds to their last regular-season loss. Kirtland also turned the ball over four times.

“It wasn’t our best effort but we’ll take it,” said Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde. “We just didn’t play great. We just didn’t play well and you’re not always going to play outstanding. The defense hung in there and kept us in the game until we could finally score some points.”

With the win, the Hornets extended their winning streak to 32 straight games and 33 regular-season contests.

Most importantly, the adversity filled game tested the Hornets in ways they likely won’t experience the rest of the season.

“This is big for us,” LaVerde said. “It gives our kids (a game in) a big stadium on turf and most of the playoff games are in big stadiums on turf. I’m actually happy that we had to face some adversity at halftime. We didn’t play well and that’s going to help us down the road. We kind of wore them down in the second half and that’s kind of our MO. Hopefully, moving forward in the playoffs, we get a tight game in the playoffs we can open it up in the second half.”

Shaker Heights began the game with the football and broke a 10-yard run on its first play from scrimmage.

The Red Raiders would run for only 53 more on their next 29 carries.

“I thought our guys did a good job just tackling, hustling, getting to the ball and keeping that quarterback and running back under control, “LaVerde said. “That first play, they went for 10 yards and I think we did a nice job after that. The defense has been playing great so far. We just have to keep getting better.”

Kirtland’s first offensive snap resulted in the first of three lost fumbles.

A quick Shaker Heights three-and-out gave the Hornets the ball back at their own 15. They moved to the Shaker 49 but a sack on third-and-eight forced a punt and the scoreless first quarter ended with the Red Raiders creeping into Kirtland territory.

Kirtland’s defense held once again but the Hornets fumbled the ball away again on their next possession.

It didn’t matter as Joey Grazia stepped in front of an Adam Diaz pass and returned it 32 yards for the first score of the game.

“On film, I saw that he skootched in a little bit when he runs his out route,” Grazia said of the receiver he was assigned to cover. “He did that exact thing and I was 99-percent sure he was running that. We were talking about it all week how I think I I’m going to get one and I stepped in front of it and took it to the house.”

The Red Raiders responded with a 33-yard field goal to cut Kirtland’s lead to 7-3 at halftime.

Kirtland ran for just 116 yards in the first half with 34 of those coming on one Mason Sullivan run. The Hornets opened the second half with a seven-play, 65-yard drive capped by Sullivan’s three-yard touchdown run.

“Mason and (Anthony DeMarco) had a big run down there,” LaVerde said. “We got that one and then we got a stop and that second one blew it open a little bit.”

Another defensive stand set up the Hornets for another scoring drive.

This time, Liam Powers threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Gage Sullivan that pushed Kirtland’s lead to 21-3.

Mason Sullivan scored on a three-yard run three plays later to push the lead to 28-3.

Danny Davidson’s six-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter closed out Kirtland’s scoring. Shaker Heights added a 55-yard touchdown pass with 2:14 left in the game.

Kirtland accumulated 310 yards of offense in the win while limiting Shaker Heights to just 195.

“Their size up front, their quarterback is a two-year starter and he can run, when they spread you out five-wide and the quarterback makes one guy miss, it’s a problem,” LaVerde said. “Then, just trying to keep it in front of us, they took some shots down the field and they didn’t hit anything until the end; they hit a slant and we missed a tackle.”

Mason Sullivan led the Hornets on the ground with 149 yards on 16 tackles and DeMarco carried 11 times for 71 yards. Powers completed 2-of-5 passes for 39 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

The Hornets play their first home game next week when they host 0-2 Cardinal.