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LaVerde: Physical Ironton challenge for Kirtland


Ironton Fighting Tigers’ linebackers Reid Carrico (28) and Cameron Deere (30) bring down a Kirtland running back during last season’s Division 5 state championship. (Kent Sanborn of SouthernOhioSportsPhotos.com)

Jim Walker
jim.walker@irontontribune.com

KIRTLAND — During the past 15 seasons, the Kirtland Hornets have been known for their power game. But the power in Kirtland is gone.
Well, not the power in the Kirtland team, just the city.
A micro burst of wind hit the Cleveland area on Sunday and half of Kirtland has been without electrical power. Hornets’ 15-year veteran head coach Phillip “Tiger” LaVerde has trees down in his side yard that he said he needs to clean up.
“It’s been 36 hours since we’ve been without power. Me and my wife and kids are living like the Amish people,” said LaVerde with a laugh. “We got candles out, it’s cold in the house, blankets and hoodies, it’s kind of fun.”
But much like Samson when his hair grew long, Kirtland (10-0) will have its power back for Saturday’s 2 p.m. Division 5 state championship game when the Hornets face the Ironton Fighting Tigers at Fortress Obetz on the Southeast side of Columbus in a rematch of last year’s title game.
Kirtland held on to win 17-7 last season but LaVerde said his team will need all its power against the unbeaten Fighting Tigers.
“They’re big and fast and strong and physical. It’s going to be a very hard challenge for our kids,” said LaVerde.
“(Nate Cochran) is really, really good this year. He’s tough to handle. (Trent) Hacker is a good player. The (Cameron) Deere kid is a really good player and, obviously, Reid Carrico is a very good player. We have a lot of respect for Ironton,” said LaVerde.
Ironton was a big, physical team last season while Kirtland was small and relied of its strength, quickness and speed. LaVerde said not much has changed this season.
“We’re not very big. We were very little last year and we’re little again. We just don’t have much size in the school. We have little quick kids who lift a lot of weights and they work very hard,” said LaVerde.
Lifting weights is a big thing for the Hornets. After winning the state championship game last season, 30 players voluntarily were in the weight room the next morning.
“They’re in there every day, 365 days a year they’re in the weight room,” said LaVerde. “These kids are really incredible. I have two sons, one is a sophomore and the other is in the seventh grade. I don’t go (to the weight room) a lot of the time. Sometimes my sons go twice a day during the summer. All our kids are like that.”
Kirtland has only three players who weight more than 200 pounds on the offensive line and only one on defense in their 3-5 alignment.
All four of Ironton’s defensive line are over 200 pounds plus Carrico (6-3, 235) at linebacker. Each starter on the entire offensive line weighs more than 200 pounds.
“Ironton is probably a little better up front this year,” said LaVerde. “Their defense is very good and our defense has been good this year. It’ll probably be a low-scoring game, but you never know what’s going to happen this year.”
“Last year, we didn’t have any turnovers. Usually when two good teams play, the team that wins makes the least amount of mistakes, no penalties and turnovers. Neither one of us had a turnover,” said LaVerde. “I’d say the goal line stand was probably the difference in the game last year.
“This is going to be a battle. They’re so fast and they come downhill quick and fast. They’re going to attack. We’re going to have to find a way to move the ball.”
Kirtland is back to the finals for the ninth time. The Ironton Fighting Tigers are back for a 10th trip. It’s been quite a ride getting back to the Division 5 state finals for both teams and it is the matchup fans wanted to see.
LaVerde is in his 15th season at Kirtland and has an amazing 184-17 record. He was 20-10 in three seasons at a school in Pennsylvania. His teams have won five state titles including the past two seasons.
Ironton is in the playoffs for the 36th time and the finals for the 10th time. The Fighting Tigers have two state titles — 1979 Class AA and 1989 Division 3 — and nine runners-up including last season.
“It’s so cool to see a different set of kids reach their full potential, work hard and achieve their goal. It’s crazy that we’ve been able to do what we’ve been able to do. Somebody upstairs must like me,” said LaVerde.
The running game powers the Kirtland offense and is led by Mason Sullivan has 144 carries for 1,350 yards and 19 touchdowns while DeMarco had 585 yards on 87 attempts with seven TDs.
“He’s a tough kid. He’s a humble kid. He doesn’t care if he gets 300 yards or one yard. I honestly think his goal at the end of the game for the other team to think he’s such a nice kid,” LaVerde said of Sullivan. “We’ve got a lot of nice kids.”
Quarterback Liam Powers is 45-of-66 passing for 844 yards with 12 touchdowns. He has also rushed 53 times for 354 yards and eight scores.
Joey Grazia leads the team with 15 catches for 269 yards and four touchdowns while Gage Sullivan has 17 receptions for 252 yards and five TDs.
Grazia leads the team with five interceptions and 28 pass breakups. The top two tacklers on defense are linebackers Mason Rus and Carson Andonian.
Sullivan also averages 40.6 yards a kick on only seven attempts. Placekicker Mario Rodin is 47-of-48 on conversions and 5-of-5 on field goals.
Ironton’s statistics are just as impressive if not more.
Carrico has 164 carries for 1,544 yards — a 9.4 yards per carry average — and he has scored 25 touchdowns. Carrico also had 12 receptions for 170 yards and two touchdowns including the game-winning 23-yard catch-and-run against Roger Bacon in the state semifinals.
Sophomore running back Trevor Carter has 74 carries for 561 yards and five touchdowns. Senior fullback Cameron Deere has 34 attempts for 197 yards and three touchdowns.
As a team, Ironton has 368 carries for 2,788 yards for a 7.6 yards per carry average and 40 touchdowns.
Sophomore quarterback Tayden Carpenter 79-of-134 passing for 1,331 yards with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has also rushed 45 times for 201 yards and four TDs.
Hacker leads a balanced receiving corps with 18 receptions for 405 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Aaron Master has 10 catches for 231 yards and three scores while senior Kyle Howell had nine grabs for 171 yards and three TDs.
Defensively, Carrico leads the team with 25 solo tackles and he has 50 stops overall including 15 tackles for a loss and three quarterback sacks.
Sophomore Lincoln Barnes has 51 tackles, Cochran 50 tackles with 14 for a loss, Deere 46 stops with 10 tackles for a loss, senior Dalton Crabtree has 42 tackles with 11 for a loss and senior Gunnar Crawford 35 with 12 for a loss.
Crawford leads the team with seven quarterback sacks while junior Angelo Washington and Cochran have six each. Hacker tops the team with three interceptions while senior Uriah Meadows and sophomore Landen Wilson have two apiece.
Howell does the punting and averages 34.3 yards a kick.

Ironton Fighting Tigers’ Defense
Pos. Player No. Ht. Wt. Gr.
DE Ashton Duncan 24 6-02 225 Jr.
DT Nate Cochran 76 6-02 260 Jr.
DT Gunner Crawford 36 5-10 225 Sr.
DE Angelo Washington 25 6-00 210 Jr.
OLB Dalton Crabtree 33 5-10 190 Sr.
ILB Reid Carrico 28 6-03 235 Sr.
ILB Cameron Deere 30 5-11 190 Sr.
OLB Lincoln Barnes 32 5-11 160 So.
CB Trent Hacker 10 6-02 175 Sr.
CB Landen Wilson 15 5-08 140 So.
S Kyle Howell 20 5-10 170 Sr.
S Uriah Meadows 37 5-07 150 Sr.
P Kyle Howell 20 5-10 170 Sr.
Ironton Fighting Tigers Offense
Pos. Player No. Ht. Wt. Gr.
WR Trent Hacker 10 6-02 175 Sr. TE Ashton Duncan 24 6-02 225 Jr.
Dalton Crabtree 33 5-10 190 Sr.
RT Matthew Davis 52 6-00 210 Sr.
RG C.J. McCall 75 6-01 310 Jr.
C Rocky White 63 5-11 235 Sr.
LG Rylan Cecil 78 6-01 270 Jr.
RT Riley Boggs 70 6-02 260 Jr.
WR Kyle Howell 20 5-10 170 Sr.
QB Tayden Carpenter 4 5-11 175 So.
FB Cameron Deere 30 5-11 190 Sr.
RB Reid Carrico 28 6-03 235 Sr.
Trevor Carter 2 6-01 190 So.
PK Jimmy Mahlmeister 81 6-00 165 Sr.

Kirtland Offensive Lineup
Pos. Player No. Ht. Wt. Gr.
WR Gage Sullivan 20 6-03 190 Jr.
TE Bobby Whitaker 21 6-00 170 So.
RT T.J. Green 52 6-02 220 Sr.
RG George Prusock 73 6-00 225 So.
C Kelly Faber 63 5-11 190 Sr.
LG Kiki Grman 50 5-09 225 Sr.
LT Jonathan Withrow 78 6-00 216 Jr.
WR Joey Grazia 2 5-10 150 Sr.
QB Liam Powers 13 5-10 175 Sr.
FB Anthony DeMarco 16 5-11 190 Sr.
RB Mason Sullivan 1 6-00 200 Sr.
RB Danny Davidson 26 5-11 165 Sr.
PK Mario Rodin 83 6-00 160 Sr.
Kirtland Defensive Lineup
DL Nick Schwartz 40 5-09 225 Sr.
DL Brad Davis 7 5-10 180 Sr.
DL Luke Gogolin 36 5-09 165 Sr.
LB Mason Rus 25 6-00 170 Jr.
LB Mason Sullivan 1 6-00 200 Sr.
LB Joseph Coleman 24 6-00 180 Jr.
LB Carson Andonian 23 6-00 170 Sr.
DB Anthony DeMarco 16 5-11 190 Sr.
DB Danny Davidson 26 5-11 165 Sr.
DB Ramon Lescano 3 5-09 155 Jr.
DB Joey Grazia 2 5-10 150 Sr.
P Gage Sullivan 20 6-03 190 Sr.
Key Reserves
DT Alex Fellinger 68 6-01 240 Sr.
LB Phillip LaVerde 4 5-10 170 So.