SOLON, Ohio – The Kirtland Hornets brought a 27-game winning streak into Saturday’s Division V, Region 17 Final against Youngstown Ursuline.
The Hornets had also won 39 of the last 40 games, but that one loss came at the hands of the Irish, a 48-0 thumping in the 2010 Region 17 Final.
So Kirtland, the reigning Division V State Champion, had some added motivation to knockoff the four-time state champions from Mahoning County, but early on it was all Irish.
Ursuline (8-5) dominated the first half, outscoring Kirtland (13-0) 24-0, and barely allowing the Hornets to cross midfield. In fact, the Hornets only gained 23 total yards in the first half as the Irish defense keyed on all-Ohio tailback Damon Washington, who came into the game averaging nearly 12-yards per carry.
But as his team headed to the locker room at halftime, Kirtland Coach Tiger LaVerde told them to forget what happened in the first 24 minutes and play the second half as if the score was 0-0, and apparently the Hornets got the message.
Kirtland marched right down the field, with sophomore tailback Adam Hess powering across the goal line, before Washington added a two-point conversion to cut the Ursuline lead to 24-8. The Hornets were just getting started.
After an Ursuline punt, Kirtland went right back to the ground game, with Hess carrying the load on another quick scoring drive and after his ten yard touchdown run, and another two-point play from senior quarterback Scott Eilerman, the Hornets had cut the once 24-point deficit to just eight, at 24-16.
But the defending champions’ resolve was tested on the ensuing drive, as Ursuline used a double-pass, with tailback Jermaine Williams throwing back to quarterback Chris Durkin, who raced 67-yards for what appeared to be the game-clinching touchdown, and a 31-16 lead.
However, Kirtland kept fighting and Eilerman connected with Sam Kukura on a 45-yard touchdown pass. Hess ran in the Hornets’ third two-point conversion of the quarter, cutting the Irish lead to just seven, at 31-24, and setting up a frantic final 12 minutes.
Ursuline was forced to punt on its first possession of the fourth quarter, and Kirtland took advantage. Eilerman raced 39-yards to the end zone, breaking several tackles along the way, and Hess added yet another two-point conversion to give the Hornets their first lead of the game, 32-31 with just over eight minutes remaining.
After another Ursuline drive stalled, Eilerman showed off his speed again, sprinting 80-yards for another touchdown, but the two-point try failed and Kirtland led 38-31 with just under five minutes to play.
But the Irish refused to fold, with Durkin leading a methodical drive inside Kirtland’s 10-yard line, where on fourth and goal, he hit Shannon Hightower in the corner of the end zone, for what appeared to be the tying touchdown. However, not wanting to risk overtime, Ursuline Coach Larry Kempe chose to go for two and the win. But Durkin was run down from behind and Kirtland completed the improbable comeback, to win 38-37.
With the win, Kirtland improves to 13-0 on the season and extends its school-record winning streak to 28-games. The Hornets have now won 40 of their last 41 games. They advance to next Saturday’s Division V State Semifinal against Baltimore-Liberty Union (11-2), needed two more wins for a second straight State Championship.
Urusline finishes the season 8-5.
For all the final scores, plus video highlights and photo galleries from Friday’s games, head over to the FOX-8 High School Football page.