Raiders will have hands full with Hornets
GREENFORD — Four state championships and three state runners-up — all since 2011.
Kirtland Hornets football is one of the dominant small-school teams around Ohio.
This year, it is no different as the Hornets play in Saturday’s Division V, Region 17 semifinal against South Range. Kirtland, the No. 1-ranked team in Division V, at 7 p.m., at Bo Rein Stadium in Niles.
The 11-0 Hornets have shut out seven of their opponents — including a 9-1 Cuyahoga Heights team (31-0) and 8-2 Geneva team (30-0).
Kirtland’s dominance begins in the backfield with potent combination of power and speed, Mason Sullivan, a 6-foot, 203-pound junior running back has bullied his way through defensive lines through the first 10 games for a 9.4-yards-per-carry average for 132 carries for 1,241 yards and 26 touchdowns.
He’s complimented by 5-8, 180, junior tailback Luke Gardner, who won the NFL’s fastest man competition at Cleveland Browns camp with more than 320 other high school players. He clocked a 4.41-second, 40-yard dash. Gardner has 77 carries for 951 yards and 16 touchdowns for a 12.3 yards-per-carry average through 10 games.
“He can flat-out run, that’s for sure,” said South Range coach Dan Yeagley, whose team is the fourth seed in the region. “The big kid, he just pounds at you, just pounds and pounds and pounds.”
Defensively, the Hornets are led by senior Kaleb Stephenson, a 6-2, 175 linebacker who had 106 tackles through 10 games, including 17 in one contest.
“He’s a staple in their defense,” Yeagley said. “He gets to the ball, runs well. We’ve got to get a hat on him. We have to make sure we block and stay on him as long as possible. He gets off blocks and makes tackles. He just does a great job.”
On the other side, the 7-3 Raiders lost starting senior quarterback Isaac Allegretto to an injury in Week 10.
Junior Michael Patrone moved in from wide receiver and took over in Week 11 and helped the Raiders overcome an early deficit to beat Bellaire. Patrone ended the game with 15-of-23 with 225 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“He’s on track to doing a good job this week,” Yeagley said.
Sophomore running back Dylan Dominguez, 5-10, 180, had almost 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns through the regular season.
Senior Chris Brooks (6-4, 185) had 400 receiving yards on 18 receptions and six TDs through the first 10 games.
The Raiders feel prepared after going through the gauntlet of Northeast-8 teams. South Range was the smallest school in a mainly Division IV conference. Five of those teams qualified for the postseason.
“Our decision to accept the invitation to go into the NE-8 was huge, especially for this reason,” Yeagley said. “It’s full of great coaches. It’s full of great players. Being the small school and going against the bigger schools, going against big players and fast kids, we’ve seen it all. Look at Girard and the speed that they have and the size. Look at Poland and the size they have and they pound right at you. Niles, Hubbard, Struthers. Week and week out you see big kids that will come at you and hit you.
“We told our kids at the beginning of the year it’s like a playoff. We’re facing teams we’ve never seen before. We had to prepare like it was a playoff game every, single week.”