Monday, April 22, 2024

Minster stuns Kirtland in epic state championship game

COLUMBUS—Minster scored 13 points in a 34-second span late in the fourth quarter to defeat Kirtland, 46-42, in the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s Division VI state championship game in front of 7,361 at Ohio Stadium on Friday.

The loss snapped Kirtland’s 29-game winning streak.

“It was a fantastic football game,” said Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde. “These guys played their hearts out. Both teams played their hearts out. The ball didn't bounce our way at the end and we didn't get stops when we needed them. What a football game. And I love these guys right here. I'm going to miss them. They're unbelievable kids and they're great football players.”

Adam Hess’ 3-yard touchdown run gave the Hornets a 42-33 lead with 4:18 left in the game. The Wildcats, who racked up 469 yards of offense, responded with an 11-play, 65-yard scoring drive capped by Evan Huelsman’s 2-yard touchdown run. Jason Schultz added the extra point to pull the Wildcats to within 42-40 with 1:56 to play.

Schultz then recovered his own onside kick attempt after it bounced off a Kirtland player and the Wildcats took over at the Kirtland 49.

“I was to the right of the ball where it was kicked,” said Kirtland quarterback Sam Skiljan. “I thought we were going to get it. It took a bad bounce. It happens. It hurts a lot.”

Matthew Finkler sacked Minster quarterback Josh Nixon on first down but Nixon threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to all-Ohioan Eli Wolf on the next play and Schultz added the extra point to put the Wildcats on top 46-42 with just 1:15 remaining in the game.

“We were in man-to-man, they ran a crossing route and they caught it,” LaVerde said of Nixon’s touchdown pass to Wolf. “The guy broke a couple of tackles and scored.”

The Hornets started their final drive at their own 19 and moved to the 40 but Skiljan was stopped short on 4th-and-3 and the Wildcats took a knee to win their second state title overall and first since 1989.

“That was two really good football teams competing,” said Minster head coach Geron Stokes. “It came down to the last second. Credit Kirtland. What a run for those guys. They're as tough and physical a team as we've played all year. Credit our kids and the resiliency they showed. We did not belong here early on in the year. This is the most improvement I've seen out of a team, a group of kids that bought into being better. This is awesome.”

Kirtland led 21-20 after the first half, which saw five lead changes.

Minster scored on its first possession of the second half but the Hornets scored the next 14 points to take a 35-27 lead. The 8-point advantage was the biggest of the game for either team.

Despite Nixon throwing for 417 yards and four touchdowns, Kirtland outgained Minster, 471-469.

Hess carried 39 times for 164 yards and two touchdowns and Skiljan ran for 95 yards on 20 carries. Skiljan completed 7-of-14 passes for 145 yards with three touchdown passes. Finkler caught four passes for 120 yards and two scores and Evan Madden had two catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.

Kirtland’s senior class closed out their careers with an overall record of 58-2, a 29-game winning streak and two state championships in four straight state championship game appearances.

“We wouldn't be sitting where we are without these guys,” LaVerde said. “Not only are they good workers in the offseason, but they're just great kids. They're humble. They're kind. They're good people and they're going to be great people when they get older. And I'm really going to miss them.”

Both of Kirtland’s losses over the past four seasons were to Midwest Athletic Conference opponents. Coldwater beat Kirtland 10-9 in the 2012 championship game.

"All those teams from the MAC, they are physical and they are going to play tough football," LaVerde said. "We knew coming into this game that they would not quit, and unfortunately for us, they made the plays. Their quarterback played very well for them, and that was just a great football game to be a part of."

The MAC has now won 108 state championships with two teams, Coldwater and Marion Local, playing for titles on Saturday.


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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