MEDINA—A traffic jam altered Kirtland’s pregame warm-up but that was the only thing to slow down the Hornets in a 31-14 win over Loudonville in Friday’s Division VI, Region 19 championship game at Ken Dukes Stadium.
The Hornets, who improved to 13-0 and won their fourth straight regional title, outgained the Redbirds, 358-211, and forced three turnovers in their 57th win in their last 58 games.
“We hit a lot of traffic so we got here late but our kids weren’t worried about it,” said Kirtland head coach Tiger LaVerde. “We’ve been here, done that. It was just like a normal game to them, besides playing a great football team.”
After each team punted on its first two possessions it looked like the matchup of the AP’s top two Division VI programs would be a defensive struggle and it was for one quarter.
Adam Hess scored on a 13-yard run on the first play of the second quarter and Jordan Ianiro tacked on the extra point to give the Hornets a 7-0 lead.
Loudonville’s first turnover gave the Hornets the ball at the Redbirds’ 37 and Sam Skiljan threw a 12-yard pass to David Allchin and Ianiro added a 22-yard field goal to make it 17-0.
The Redbirds threatened at the end of the first half but Skiljan picked off a Kolton Edmondson pass inside the Kirtland 1 to end the half.
That turnover preserved Kirtland’s three score lead, which was especially important considering the Redbirds would receive the third quarter kickoff.
“Us being up 17, which was three scores, I think makes them maybe press a little bit on offense and not be able to run the ball,” LaVerde said. “Really, they’ve been a fantastic run team all year. They didn’t really run the ball tonight. They kind of got behind and had to throw it and we had a couple interceptions.”
Edmondson entered the game with over 1,800 yards rushing and passing. He ended it with just 41 yards on 12 carries and he completed 13-of-29 passes for 160 yards with one touchdown to two interceptions.
Led by outstanding performances from Ethan McCaslin, Evan Madden and Chris Sakenes, Kirtland’s defense bottled up the Loudonville offense and took away Edmondson’s cutback option.
McCaslin and Sakenes constantly pressured Edmondson and Madden recovered an onside kick with just over four minutes left in the game to seal Kirtland’s victory.
“Ethan he’s like Eric Guhde from last year. He’s the unsung hero. He does all the little things that we ask unselfishly to win the game. He doesn’t get the ball but every play he’s right at the point of attack on offense and on defense he’s played about as good of defense as you can play all year,” LaVerde said. “You’re never going to have a great defense with one great player. We try to put 11 very good players on the field and that’s our game plan, get our 11 best athletes on the field on defense. Ethan’s a great athlete. Madden, that play he made on the onside kick was incredible; him jumping up and taking that hit and not losing the ball. I know it didn’t mean much but that was an incredible play he made with four minutes left in the game.”
Josh Weber’s 6-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter made it interesting, especially after the Hornets were forced to punt on their next series. Joey Bates pinned the Redbirds down deep in their own territory and Loudonville punted the ball right back to the Hornets with just 8:51 left in the game.
Three plays later Skiljan ran for a 47-yard touchdown to make it 24-6. Skiljan added a 15-yard touchdown run.
He finished with a game-high 128 yards on 16 carries.
Edmondson threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Weber to close out the scoring.
Kirtland advanced to the state semifinals for the fourth straight season. The Hornets will play Lucasville Valley (11-2) on Friday at a site to be announced on Sunday.