Kirtland has had plenty of fun the past several seasons, winning two state titles in the last three seasons and 53 straight regular season games overall.
If the Hornets thought easy wins were the only way to find enjoyment on a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon, they found out otherwise on Oct. 25 at Beachwood.
And, as usual, Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde was right.
Kirtland racked up 42 second-half points, wearing down Beachwood with its running game, and extended its regular-game winning streak to 54 straight games with a 49-24 win over the host Bison.
Trailing at halftime for the first time in almost two full years, LaVerde embraced the situation with his team trailing, 18-7, at the half.
“At halftime, I said, ‘This is fun. This is exciting,’” LaVerde said. “‘This is not going to be a continuous clock in the second half. This is a chance to play some football. It’s a beautiful day. Let’s have fun with it.'"
And fun is exactly what the Hornets experienced in a dominating final 24 minutes of play.
Senior standout Adam Hess had as much enjoyment in the win as any Kirtland player, and he wasn’t even originally scheduled to participate.
After missing the past two games with a shoulder injury, the 6-foot, 210-pound senior ran for three second-half touchdowns and finished with 105 yards rushing on 21 carries. LaVerde said he was initially inclined to hold Hess out of the game, but was glad to see him on the field against Beachwood.
“It was different, obviously,” Hess said of the halftime deficit. “But we came together. (LaVerde) said, ‘This is going to happen. You’re not going to kill everybody.’ We came together as one, we fought and we came away with the win.”
The Hornets amassed 461 yards of offense, 259 of them coming in the second half.
“They’re the type of offense that they run and they do pound you,” Beachwood coach Mike Gibbons said. “They’re aggressive. We were able to get off the field in the first half. In the second half, it was tough against them.”
Beachwood was leading, 18-7, at halftime. A 75-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Tyler Hines and a 99-yard scoring drive off a Kirtland fumble on the 1-yard line were huge in giving the Bison a promising 11-point edge. It was Kirtland’s first halftime deficit since trailing Coldwater, 10-7, at the half in the 2012 Division V state championship game, a run of 24 games.
It was a little bit of déjà vu for the Hornets as Kirtland also trailed at the half, 12-0, two seasons ago in its last trip to Beachwood before pulling out a 20-18 overtime win.
After Beachwood had taken a 24-21 lead on a 62-yard pass from Max Balazs to Hines at the end of the third quarter, Kirtland QB Sam Skiljan hit Matthew Finkler for a 14-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to give the Hornets the advantage for good. On the next drive, Beachwood lined up to punt, but an errant snap gave Kirtland the ball on the Bison 29.
Hess ran untouched for a touchdown and a 35-24 lead on the next possession.
The Hornets (9-0) – who tacked on two more scores to put the win away – are the No. 1 ranked team in Division VI and defending state champs. Kirtland has not lost a regular season game since 2009.
Kirtland (9-0) will go for its fourth straight undefeated regular season next week against Independence.
The Bison (5-4) can clinch a playoff berth next week against West Geauga, according to JoeEitel.com. Beachwood got 139 yards passing from Balazs and 86 yards rushing from Nate Hamilton.
“Right now our focus is on West Geauga,” Gibbons said. “We need to win that game. We’re going to put everything we have into beating them. “There are no moral victories or points for second place. But, I feel like if we play like we did in the first half against a team that hasn’t lost a regular season game in 50 games, we have a chance to do some good things going forward.”