CANTON—Kirtland’s bid for a seventh state championship came to an end on Saturday morning at Tom Henson Hall of Fame Stadium.
The Hornets dropped a 14-6 decision to Marion Local in the Division VI championship game in a battle of the top two teams in the final state rankings. The Flyers earned their AP No. 1 ranking by shutting down the second-ranked Kirtland offense on the way to winning their 13th state title.
“Their defense was as advertised,” said Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde. “We had six first downs for the game. It’s hard to replicate their size, speed, and physicality in practice. I thought our kids played hard. You ask your kids to play as hard as they can, and they played hard. Our defense played outstanding; their defense played outstanding, and we kind of knew it was going to be like that. That’s a really good football team; I think everybody knows that. That’s the reason they’ve got 13 state championships.
Kirtland actually earned nine first downs, but the Hornets struggled to string them together.
They picked up two first downs on the game’s opening possession before that drive stalled at the Marion Local 47.
The Flyers then went three-and-out and punted the ball back to the Hornets, who came up one yard short on a third-and-nine play and then punted from their own 22 into a 23-mile-per-hour wind.
That punt traveled just eight yards, but Kirtland’s defense was up to the short-field challenge and held on fourth-and-seven from its own 27.
After another Kirtland punt, the Flyers put together the game’s longest drive by marching to the Kirtland four. That drive lasted for 10 plays and covered 62 yards, but the Kirtland defense used a goal-line stand to keep the game scoreless.
Another Kirtland three-and-out gave the Flyers the ball at their own 49. Five plays later, Darren Meier ran for a two-yard touchdown run to give Marion Local a 7-0 lead with 1:33 left in the first half.
The Hornets moved to the Marion Local 33 on the ensuing possession, but Nathan Buschur picked off a Jake LaVerde pass to end the threat and the half.
“We thought there was a seam open and obviously, the safety made a good play and got over there and got it,” Coach LaVerde said. “He overthrew it or threw it too far to the inside; I’ll have to look. We don’t throw the ball much, but when you’re behind and you can’t run the ball, and you’re playing a defense like that, you’ve got to throw it a little bit.”
Marion Local opened the second half with another drive into Kirtland territory but Gino Blasini picked off a pass on fourth-and-two and the Hornets took over at their own 42.
Three plays later, Buschur stepped in front of another LaVerde pass and returned it 57 yards for a touchdown with 6:42 left in the third quarter.
“I just saw him overthrow it a little bit, went up and caught it, and started running,” Buschur said. “All I could see was my teammates in front of me. I didn’t see anyone else coming and just kept running.”
Trailing 14-0, the Hornets caught a break when they forced a fumble that MacGuire Boyd jumped on at the Marion Local 22.
LaVerde then threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Will Sayle on fourth-and-eight with 38 seconds remaining in the quarter. Marion Local blocked the extra point to maintain a 14-6 lead.
Marion Local’s next drive went backward, and the Flyers were set to punt into the wind, but Kirtland allowed the clock to hit zero and Aidan Eifert used the wind at his back to boot the ball 43 yards for a touchback.
The next 19 plays occurred inside Kirtland’s 41-yard line.
Kirtland managed to move into Marion Local territory late in the fourth quarter, but a fourth-down pass was batted away with 2:34 remaining in the game.
Marion Local’s next drive stalled and Eifert then punted 60 yards to pin the Hornets at their own two-yard line with just 29 seconds left.
Sayle caught a pass on second-and-seven that would have given the Hornets a first down, but the officials ruled Sayle was out of bounds when he caught the ball.
Coach LaVerde called his final timeout to give the replay officials a chance to review the call. No review was conducted, and the Hornets turned the ball over on downs with nine seconds left in their season.
“I thought we got the first down,” Coach LaVerde said. “I wanted them to review it and then they wouldn’t review it. I thought if we took a timeout, they’d review it.”
Marion Local kneeled down on first down to close out a perfect 16-0 season.
Statistically, the Hornets owned the scorebook.
They outgained the Flyers, 161-142. Kirtland ran for 109 yards and passed for 52 compared to 66 and 76 for Marion Local.
Kirtland turned the ball over twice but forced three Marion Local turnovers. The Hornets also had fewer penalties and recorded 10 tackles for a loss of 42 yards compared to just four tackles for loss for minus-four yards for Marion Local.
Jake LaVerde completed 5-of-18 passes for 52 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Rocco Alfieri carried 21 times for a game-high 77 yards and Gino Blasini caught two passes for 28 yards.
With the loss, Kirtland’s postseason record now sits at 59-12 in 18 playoff appearances. The Hornets have played in six straight state championship games. They have won six state titles and have finished as the state runners-up five times since 2011.
The Hornets are now 2-2 against the Flyers in four meetings between the two powerhouse programs.