By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
It is not often that Mogadore football enters a game as the underdog.
It is not often, though, that any team has to play an opponent like Kirtland.
The Hornets have compiled a successive run of dominance unlike anything the state has ever seen.
Thirteen consecutive regional-final appearances, 11 regional championships, six state championships and now 68 wins in the program’s last 69 games.
That comes after the Hornets ran their way to a convincing 30-0 victory over the Wildcats on Saturday night at Nordonia High School’s Boliantz Stadium in the Division VI, Region 21 championship final.
“We have been on the same field as state-championship teams before and that is a state-championship caliber team,” veteran Mogadore head coach Matt Adorni said. “They are very good all over the place.”
The Hornets showcased it on Saturday, but primarily flexed in the run game.
Kirtland (14-0) did not throw a pass for the entire game and amassed 289 yards on the ground on just 35 carries, with much of the damage — and all of the game’s scoring — coming in the first half.
The Hornets scored on their first four possessions to run up to a 30-0 halftime lead, triggering a running clock for the second half.
Of Kirtland’s 289 ground-game yards, 268 of them came in the first half.
Leading the way was senior Tommy Gogolin, who finished the game with 191 yards on 16 attempts and scored two touchdowns. Senior Rocco Alfieri added 50 yards on six carries and scored a touchdown, while freshman quarterback Jake LaVerde ran five times for 34 yards and a score.
Mogadore entered the game with its own vaunted running attack. In the Cats’ previous three playoff victories, the team had rushed for 1,055 yards and senior Mason Williams had accounted for 711 yards.
On Saturday, the Cats never were able to get their run game going, then fell behind — in both score and down-and-distance — and were forced to throw more frequently than they had shown preference for throughout the season.
Kirtland’s defense was fast in pursuit, strong in tackling and swarmed as its Hornets nickname would indicate.
As a team, Mogadore (12-1) managed only 56 yards in 27 carries, with Mason Williams going for 38 yards on 12 attempts and Collin Lehner rushing for 25 yards in 11 tries.
“They are really good all over the place,” Adorni said. “There is no shame in losing to them. It got to a point in the game that we wanted to try to keep the score close, then see what could happen, but they were just better than us at a lot of positions tonight.”
That is not unique to Mogadore, though. Kirtland has asserted itself as one of Northeast Ohio’s premier programs and now owns a 55-9 record in the playoffs. Mogadore has 102 playoff wins and 18 regional championships, giving Saturday’s regional final some serious historical influence with 157 combined playoff wins and 29 regional championships between the two storied programs.
Mogadore’s seniors also closed out a four-year career that carries quite a bit of history as well.
The nine Wildcats seniors — Dustin Baker, Collin Lehner, Nick Coffman, Adam DeBenedictis, John Ardelian, Trevor Davis, Tyler Shellenbarger, Aiden Leslie and Mason Williams — finished with a career record of 39-9 and that includes a COVID-impacted 2020 season that did not give the Wildcats a full season of games.
The group was part of back-to-back regional-final appearances and won three Portage Trail Conference championships.
“These seniors have been great. This year, what I loved the most about them was how they accepted all of the freshmen and sophomores that we would put into the lineup,” Adorni said. “We came a long way this year and before the season, there was not anyone or any computer that predicted this kind of season for us. What this group accomplished is awesome, and I am very proud of them. But when you run into a team like this (Kirtland), there just are not many weaknesses.”
Kirtland showed off that description early and often in the first half.
The Hornets took the opening kickoff in for a touchdown that featured seven plays and traveled 46 yards that was aided by a 15-yard penalty on the Wildcats. The drive ended on a 9-yard run by Gogolin at the 8:50 mark. Alifieri ran in the 2-point conversion after Kirtland changed its mind to go for two instead of the extra point when the Cats were flagged and the ball was placed on the 1.
Kirtland’s 8-0 lead grew to 15-0 with 58 seconds left in the first quarter on a 26-yard run by Alfieri.
The Hornets scored two more touchdowns in the second quarter, with the first coming at 7:48 on a 51-yard burst from Gogolin to make Kirtland’s lead 22-0. Jake LaVerde scored with 49 seconds left in the first half and Gogolin ran in the 2-point conversion for the 30-0 advantage.
Kirtland will face Beverly Fort Frye on Saturday at 7 p.m. in a state-semifinal showdown. Fort Frye defeated Bellaire 35-28.
In the other Division VI state semifinal, Marion Local will square off against Columbus Grove.
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