Thursday, September 23, 2021

Momentum swing leads Kirtland to win over Independence

KIRTLAND—A high school football game is 48 minutes long and includes over 100 offensive snaps, but the outcome of many games can be traced back to a single second or snap.

That was the case in Kirtland’s 35-7 win over visiting Independence at Rogers Field on Friday.

Trailing 8-7 with 50 seconds left in the first half, Independence was faced with a fourth-and-1 at its own 30. The snap sailed over the punter’s head and was recovered by Kirtland at 4-yard line. The Hornets scored three plays later and opened the third quarter with a long scoring drive to effectively seal their win.

“At halftime, I said this is big, that’s why we defer at the beginning,” said Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde. “The kids did a nice job executing what we needed to do to get up two scores.”

Cleveland Indians 2016 American League Champs

Injuries continued to plague Independence.

The Blue Devils opened the game down three starters, including both long snappers. Starting quarterback Kyle Stefanski injured his throwing hand on the opening drive of the second half, which didn’t help matters.

“Early in that third quarter, the first series, he couldn’t grip the ball,” said Independence coach Rick Adams. “The couple throws he threw were high because he couldn’t grip it. Every team goes through some adversity. How do you react to it? We have to do a better job reacting and getting better. We’ll look at the film and see what we have to get better at.”

A penalty derailed Independence’s opening drive and Kirtland responded with an 8-play, 72-yard drive capped by a Jake Neibecker 2-yard touchdown run. Dylan Fulco connected with Brandon Samsa on a 2-point conversion pass that gave the Hornets an early 8-0 lead.

The Blue Devils then put together a long drive of their own.

Stefanski completed all six of his passes on the drive, including a 6-yarder to Nick Laski that pulled the Blue Devils to within 8-6 with 3:25 left in the first quarter.

Kirtland’s next drive ended when the Blue Devils recovered a fumble in their own end zone and took over at the 20.

They moved the ball to the Kirtland 24 but couldn’t convert on 4th-and-six and turned the ball over on downs.

Kirtland then punted from the Independence 43 to set up the game-changing special teams play.

“We had to deal with injuries this week,” Adams said. “Both our long snappers actually were out, so we had to find a third snapper. He filled in great; I’m not going to blame him. What do you do? It’s part of the game. We as a team have to rally behind him and we didn’t rally.”

Fulco punched it in from the one and Dylan Aquila’s extra point gave the Hornets a 15-7 lead with 19 seconds left in the half.

The Hornets opened the second half with a 15-play drive that covered 77 yards and chewed up nearly seven minutes of the game clock. Joey Torok’s 6-yard touchdown run pushed the Kirtland lead to 21-7.

“Overall, I was very happy with how the kids competed, even if it was 8-7 at halftime,” LaVerde said. “What we do offensively, it gets harder and harder as the game wears on and our kids did a good job executing. In the second half the kids did a fantastic job. I think we scored every time we had the ball.”

That drive gave the Hornets a two score lead and also wore down the Blue Devils, who had just over half the amount of players as their hosts.

“I thought coming out in the second half we were ready to go,” Adams said. “We thought we were in a good spot. We stopped them on downs and just couldn’t get that fourth down stop. We had them on a couple holding penalties, first and long, and they were able to grind it out. We have to do a better job answering. We were down two scores; that’s not out of reach. We, as coaches, have to find a way to get our kids in better positions. When you lose, you have to look at what the coaches did wrong. It’s my job to put the kids in position to win and I didn’t do that, so it’s on me.”

Torok ran for a 5-0 yard score early in the fourth quarter and Fulco ran one in from seven yards out to close out the scoring.

Fulco finished the day 5-of-7 passing for 46 yards and also ran for 32 yards on six carries. Torok led the Hornets with 171 yards on 22 carries and Neibecker ran 24 times for 115 yards.

Stefanski finished 7-for-12 passing for 55 yards for the Blue Devils and Nick Mroczynski posted a team-high 36 rushing yards on 11 carries.

Kirtland improved to 6-0 on the year. The Hornets travel to Cardinal on Friday. Independence dropped to 4-2. The Blue Devils host Hawken next week.


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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