Friday, February 23, 2024

Kirtland rushes back to state final

Kirtland used a dominating defense and ground game to beat Ottawa-Glandorf in a state semifinal at Clyde High School on Saturday, 28-6.

The Hornets, who improved to 14-0, ran for 374 yards in the win which extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 55 straight games. Kirtland also extended its postseason winning streak to 21 straight games, which ranks fifth in OHSAA history. Coldwater and Marion Local are tied for first with 24 straight postseason wins and St. Ignatius and Archbishop Hoban both are tied for third with 23 straight.

“It is super exciting to be back in states and winning this game was everything to us,” said senior Gage Sullivan, who carried the ball 15 times for a game-high 173 yards and two touchdowns. “We knew defensively it was going to be hard.”

Sullivan entered the game with just 12 rushing attempts this season.

Injuries to Tommy Gogolin and Phil LaVerde forced Sullivan to move from wide receiver into the backfield and he delivered.

“It’s indubitably a blessing to be involved but it sucks that it has to happen with Tommy and Phil being questionable,” he said.

Mason Rus, who ran 30 times for 161 yards and two scores on the way to becoming Kirtland’s all-time leading rusher, capped the opening possession of the game with a three-yard scoring run with 8:12 left in the first quarter. Rus now has 1,959 rushing yards this season. Joey Bates previously was the all-time rushing leader with 1,937 yards.

Sullivan broke a 12-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter that pushed the Kirtland lead to 14-0 and then the Hornets defense made a key play on 4th-and-3 at their own 35 to force a turnover on downs.

Ottawa-Glandorf’s Ian Fenbert took a pitch to the right side but Scotty Haymer and Rus teamed up on the tackle for a five-yard loss.

“On that play, I saw the running back bounce outside and knew that I had to come off my guy and make a play, and Mason Rus and I got a nice tackle for loss together that really made a statement about what our defense can do when we have to make plays,” Haymer said. “It was really exciting to go out there and show what our defense could do against a team that can move the ball easily and plays football at a high level.”

Two plays later, Sullivan broke the game open with a 51-yard touchdown run.

Sullivan broke through the line of scrimmage and headed for the right sideline. Rus and Daven Patel set two key blocks that allowed Sullivan to change directions and he headed for the left corner. He reached the football over the goal line as he was being pushed out of bounds.

“When I cut it up the C-gap, I saw Mason and Daven take the corner and safety and I knew it would be 1-on-1 with the other safety and he wouldn’t be able to tackle me,” Sullivan said.

Ottawa-Glandorf moved the ball into Kirtland territory but Will Sayle’s pass breakup on 4th-and-8 at the Hornet 21 ended that scoring threat.

Robert Laney and Joseph Coleman teamed up on a third-down sack to once again thwart an Ottawa-Glandorf scoring opportunity.

Kirtland fumbled away the ball on its next possession but Patel sacked the quarterback on 4th-and-3 to once again force a turnover on downs.

The Titans finished the game just 1-of-5 on fourth-down tries.

Rus added a one-yard touchdown run with 2:03 remaining in the third quarter.

The Titans cut Kirtland’s lead to 28-6 with a 56-yard Fenbert touchdown run early in the fourth quarter but Kirtland’s defense shut down Ottawa-Glandorf the rest of the way to seal the victory.

Kirtland advanced to the state championship game for the fifth straight season and 10th time in 11 years. The Hornets will play for a fourth straight state title.

The Hornets will play Versailles, who is making its first appearance in the championship game since 2004.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication to get it done,” Sullivan said. “We have to leave it all on the field.”

Steve Hare
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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