KIRTLAND—Kirtland’s 37-7 win over Jeromesville Hillsdale in Friday’s Division VI, Region 19 quarterfinal at Rogers Field might appear to have been another Hornets’ blowout, but looks can be deceiving.
The Hornets, who improved to 11-0 this season and extended their winning streak to 26 straight games, had their hands full with the Falcons, winners of the Wayne County Athletic League.
“They have a tough group of kids and great coaches over there,” said Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde. “We’re happy to move on to the next week.”
Hillsdale is one of the few teams over the past four years to have success stuffing the Kirtland running game. That forced the Hornets to go to the air a few times more than normal.
With the Hornets rushing for a season low 217 yards on 48 carries, senior quarterback Sam Skiljan pulled off the rare feat of passing for more yards than any Kirtland running back accumulated on the ground. He finished the game 7-of-11 passing for 98 yards and threw one touchdown pass.
“They had eight guys in the box. Teams are going to do that against us,” LaVerde said. “We have to be able to execute the passing game. That’s what we’ve talked about since June when we start going to 7-on-7’s. We missed a couple guys wide open and we got sacked a few times. Teams know what we’re about. They’re going to defend us with eight or nine in the box and we have to make them pay.”
Skiljan completed three passes of 16 yards or more and had clutch throws for first downs four times.
“It’s awesome,” Skiljan said. “I love throwing the ball. If we run the ball, no problem, I’m fine, but it’s nice to throw the ball once in a while.”
Senior Adam Hess led the Hornets on the ground with just 79 yards on 20 carries with a pair of touchdowns. Skiljan added 39 yards on 13 carries and senior Jacob Boyd ran for 35 yards on six carries and scored once.
Kirtland had little success turning the corner on the scrappy Hillsdale defense.
“They’ve got some physical linebackers. Their two inside backers make a lot of plays. We knew that going in,” LaVerde said. “They did a great job pursuing to the football so we didn’t get a lot of chunk plays.”
The Hornets, who have won 55 of their last 56 games, capitalized on advantageous field position throughout the game.
It started on the game’s first possession when Vinny Matticoli recovered a Hillsdale onside kick attempt at the Falcons’ 46.
Boyd ended the six play, 46-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. A Hillsdale penalty moved the ball closer to the goal line and Skiljan ran in the two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
Hess scored on a 1-yard run to increase Kirtland’s lead to 15-0 with 3:11 left in the first quarter and Skiljan threw a 4-yard TD pass to Matthew Finkler early in the second to give the Hornets a 22-0 lead at the break.
Friday’s game was just the fourth time all season the Hornets didn’t start the second half with a running clock.
“They came out pretty strong in the first half,” Skiljan said. “We scored the (three out of our first four) drives and then they started stopping us. We only had 22 points at the half but in the second half we picked it up a little bit and got the offense moving and it ended up working out.”
Kirtland’s defense made sure Hillsdale never threatened.
The Hornets outgained the Falcons, 315-89, and limited their opponents to just four first downs in the game.
Hillsdale broke two big plays, both by Corbin Mager.
His 53-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter ended Kirtland’s bid for a fourth shutout this season and he also returned a fourth quarter kickoff 85 yards to the Kirtland 8 but the Hornets’ defense stood tall and the Falcons turned the ball over on downs to end the game.
“I thought our defense played outstanding,” LaVerde said. “They got one play there where they popped one, but I thought other than that, I don’t know how many first downs they had but they didn’t have many first downs.”
Hess and Joey Bates both ran for touchdowns in the second half to close out the scoring for the Hornets.
Hillsdale rushed for 67 yards on 25 carries and possessed the football for just 17 minutes, 45 seconds.
Kirtland advanced to Friday’s regional semifinals where the Hornets will play No. 2 seed Sugarcreek Garaway, who improved to 11-0 with a 35-28 win over Villa Angela-St. Joseph. The game location will be announced on Sunday.