By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
Inch for inch and pound for pound, no high school football team in Northeast Ohio has performed any better in the last few years than the Kirtland Hornets.
As a power among smaller schools, Kirtland won the Division V championship in 2011 and fell a point short of repeating that feat last year. On Friday, Kirtland showed its worth again in a 62-7 whipping of visiting Edgewood.
The victory extended the Hornets’ regular-season winning streak to 38 games, dating to 2009.
“We could go deep into the (Division IV) playoffs and end up in the State championship game, and we still wouldn’t see somebody better than Kirtland,” Edgewood coach Josh Franke said. “I believe that you could throw them into Division II or Division I, and they would still be one of the best programs there. (Kirtland coach) Tiger (LaVerde) has really done a great job of turning this program around, and he really has a powerhouse football team here. And it’s good for our kids to see that type of experience. It’s a good measuring stick.”
The contest wasn’t without other positives for the Warriors (0-3). They fought their hosts tooth-and-nail at the start, and held Kirtland to a scoreless deadlock at the end of the first quarter. After recovering a fumbled punt, Edgewood moved the ball from the Hornet 33 to a first down at the 21, but was stopped on fourth-and-four from the 15.
The Warriors had gained a pair of first downs on their initial possession.
“That drive (after recovering the fumble) killed us,” Franke said. “Everything was rolling fine for us. I would like to think that maybe the game would have been a little bit different if we could have jumped up on them, but you’ve got to give credit to their defense, and a very tough defense came up with the stop.”
“They did a nice job (at the start),” LaVerde said. “They came out, and Coach Franke does a nice job, and the kids stopped the run well. They had a nice opening drive.
“That was good for us. We want to be tested. We want to battle. I was glad to see our guys battle and have to play three quarters. That was awesome.”
The Hornets, who came out on offense primarily using their running game, didn’t get on the board until 7:05 remained in the half, when Adam Hess (14 carries, 89 yards) took it in from 2 yards out.
But from there it was just about all Hornets. Starting with the Hess run, they scored touchdowns nine of the 10 times they had the ball. The one time they didn’t, they fumbled it away at the Edgewood 5. Two plays later, a sack in the end zone produced a fumble, which Chris Sakenes recovered for a score, making it 42-0 midway through the third period.
Behind Hess and Sam Kukura (82 yards including an 8-yard TD on 12 carries), Kirtland (3-0) racked up 290 yards rushing. It also threw for 242 yards, as Sam Skiljan (8-of-14, 212 yards) found Ryan Loncar (4 catches, 126 yards) for touchdowns of 24 and 43 yards, and Owen Lewis hit Evan Madden for a 7-yard score.
Skiljan also had a rushing touchdown of four yards. Nick Seketa and David Allchin added touchdown runs of 14 and 4 yards respectively in the fourth quarter.
“We had a great game plan coming in,” Franke said. “Tiger kind of went a little bit of spread offense on us. We hadn’t seen that on film this year; we weren’t prepared for it. And we didn’t make the adjustments quick enough.
“That’s a hell of a job (by) their coaching staff for making those adjustments. We shut down what they liked, and then they adjusted, and we didn’t adjust back to it. So that’s our coaching flaw right there.”
“They loaded the box up to stop the run,” LaVerde said. “And we needed to do something to open it up a little bit. We have a good quarterback; we have some good weapons at wide receiver, so we utilized them and made some big plays to get us going.”
The Hornets defense made it tough on the Edgewood runners, holding them to 35 yards on 32 attempts. The Warriors did pick up 150 yards via the air, including a two-yard scoring pass from Alex Wisnyai to Alex Sturgill that foiled the shutout with less than four minutes to play.
Juliana Kosik provided the other Warrior point with her kick following Sturgill’s score.
“I can’t be more proud of the kids coming in and shutting them out in the first quarter,” Franke said. “That’s by far the biggest positive. It’s a heck of a football team.”
“They got some size, they got some athletic kids, and that’s not a bad football team,” LaVerde said. “They’re gonna win some games.”
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.