By Steve Ruman
It is tradition at Mollenkopf Stadium for fireworks to ignite whenever Warren Harding scores a touchdown on its home field.
To the relief of area residents who like to call it an early night, pyrotechnics aren’t part of the postseason equation. If they were, the sky over Warren on Saturday would likely resemble a non-stop Independence Day grand finale.
Crestview (11-0) and Kirtland (11-0) meet Saturday at Mollenkopf Stadium in a Division V, Region 21 semifinal. If the first 11 weeks of the season are any indication, the scoreboard itself may explode due to excessive usage.
Combined, the two teams are averaging 104 points per game.
In the Region 21 quarterfinals, Kirtland advanced with a 49-7 win over Fort Fry. Crestview moved on following a 51-50 win over St. Thomas Aquinas.
Kirtland enters the game as the defending Division V state champion. The Hornets own the longest current winning streak (26) in Ohio. They have won 43 of their last 44 games.
Kirtland is averaging 48.3 points per game, and its average margin of victory is 37.4 points.
Crestview is averaging a staggering 55.8 points per contest. Even with its one-point win over Aquinas, its average margin of victory is 40.9 points. The Rebels have won 22 of their last 23 games. The only loss in that span was a 35-7 setback to Kirtland in last year’s region 21 final.
While such numbers are usually the result of pass-happy offenses, such is not the case for either team. The Hornets are averaging 375 rushing yards per contest. They have scored 54 rushing touchdowns.
Crestview has scored 64 touchdowns on the ground, and it is averaging 391 rushing yards per game.
Despite the similarities in numbers, the two offenses differ greatly, according to Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde.
“We’re both run-oriented teams, but our styles are pretty different,” LaVerde said. “Crestview likes to run from the shotgun, we go under center. They like to spread things out, we generally run a two tight end set.”
“Fans see the running stats, and sometimes they believe it’s a case of a very simple system. That’s not necessarily the case. Crestview runs a very complex offense, and they run it as fundamentally sound as any team possibly can.”
What is similar about the two offenses is the fact that both Kirtland and Crestview feature a go-to back.
Kirtland is paced by Damon Washington. The senior has rushed for 1,385 yards, averaging 13.3 yards-per-carry. He has 28 rushing touchdowns. The four-year starter was the 2011 Division V offensive player of the year.
“Damon gives us a home run threat at all times,” LaVerde said. “He is quick and elusive, and he can score on any play, from anywhere on the field. He is also freakishly strong, which I think is often overlooked.”
Crestview’s offense is spearheaded by Nick Blower. The senior has rushed for 1,928 yards, averaging 11.8 yards-per-carry while scoring 24 touchdowns.
Blower is anxious to see how he and his teammates match up against an opponent many view as the odds-on favorite to win another state crown.
“It’s going to be fun to see how things turn out. All everyone has been talking about is the numbers both teams put up,” Blower said. “We know we’re going to have to be at our best level, because we’re playing the best.”
Blower is also anxious to see how he compares to his counterpart.
“[Washington] has put up ridiculous numbers,” Blower said. “As an opposing back, you always want to match numbers. You want to prove yourself.
“But the bottom line is a win. Moving on means everything to me, so I would trade in all my yards for a win. I’m sure he feels the same way.”
The winner of Saturday’s game will play either Ursuline or Cuyahoga Heights.