Saturday, January 28, 2023

Kirtland clobbers Columbia

KIRTLAND—Good football teams typically don’t make the same mistake twice and almost always clean up their mistakes from one week to the next.

In a 14-13 Week 1 victory at Chagrin Falls last week the Kirtland Hornets stumbled in all phases of the game. They cleaned up most of those mistakes in Friday’s 49-14 win over Columbia, a team that has reached the postseason in each of the past five seasons.

“We’re trying to get better every day,” said Kirtland head coach Tiger LaVerde. “We’re not where we want to be. We want to be playing our best football in November. I thought Week 1 to Week 2 was a great improvement on both sides of the ball.”

Last week, Kirtland averaged just over five yards per carry against the Tigers. On Friday, the Hornets doubled that by rushing for 362 yards on 35 carries.

“I thought the guys up front did a better job than they did last week,” LaVerde said. “Chagrin had a part in that, they played really well defensively and made it hard on us. This week we had a good week of practice and I thought we executed a little bit better and a little bit cleaner.”

Jake Neibecker led the way for the Hornets as he rushed for 139 yards on just nine carries. His 51-yard touchdown run gave the Hornets a 7-0 lead with 8:46 left in the first quarter.

Neibecker added a 57-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

“It’s really cool; great blocking and huge holes all night,” Neibecker said. “Getting through that hole when there’s just one guy to beat, it’s so fun.”

Joey Torok scored from five yards out to push the Kirtland lead to 14-0 and his 35-yard scoring run on the first play of the second quarter gave the Hornets a three-score cushion.

Mike Zeuli set up the next score after he picked off a Columbia pass deep inside Kirtland territory one play after being called for pass interference.

He then stepped in at quarterback for Dylan Fulco, who left the game with an injury, and ran around the left end for a 31-yard touchdown.

Zeuli, who completed 3-of-6 passes for 93 yards, later connected with Torok on a 64-yard scoring toss.

“I knew if my shot was called that I was going to go in and do what I know I can do,” Zeuli said. “Even on defense, I was playing as hard as I could. I know even if I make a mistake I was going to come back and try to make a play.”

Fulco completed 1-of-2 passes before departing the game and Hornets finished 5-of-11 for 136 yards.

“We completed some balls when we threw them,” LaVerde said. “When they put guys up (at the line of scrimmage) we’ve got to make them pay and tonight we did. We hit some big ones down the field.”

Columbia’s Brandon Coleman, who ran for 153 yards on 23 carries one week after torching Independence for 202 yards, scored on the first play after the Torok touchdown catch to pull Raiders to within 35-7 at halftime.

Coleman added a one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Kirtland limited the Raiders to just 224 yards of offense on 51 plays.

“The defense did a nice job, except on one play in the first half,” LaVerde said. “That’s a quality team. I wanted our kids to rise to the challenge and I think they did.”

Freshman Mario Rodin stepped in at placekicker and went 7-for-7 on point after attempts.

“That freshman kicker, he’s money,” LaVerde said.

Kirtland improved to 2-0 on the year and heads into the final week of non-conference play with a healthy dose of confidence and momentum.

“Coach was telling us all week how big this was for (playoff) points because they’re probably going to go 9-1,” Neibecker said. “They’re one of the best teams we’re going to play all year and it gives us a good confidence boost heading into teams like (Cuyahoga) Heights and our big division rivals.”

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Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, 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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