By Steve Ruman
It was expected to be a showcase of offenses, with Kirtland averaging 48 points per game and Crestview averaging 55 points per contest.
But when the two teams met Saturday at Mollenkopf Stadium in a Division V, Region 17 semifinal, it was the Hornets’ defense which proved to be the difference maker.
Kirtland made three key second quarter defensive stops, then turned to its punishing ground game in the second half en route to a 28-14 win over the Rebels.
The win propels the Hornets (12-0) into Saturday’s regional final against Ursuline.
Kirtland, the defending Division V state champs, own the state’s longest winning streak at 27 games. Its last loss was two years ago, in a regional final against Ursuline.
Crestview bows out at 11-1.
Backed by a strong and balanced running attack, Kirtland scored one touchdown in each quarter. Senior Damon Washington, the 2011 Division V player of the year, led the attack with 120 yards on just 11 carries. Washington gained all but three of his yards in the first half, and scored the game’s first touchdown on a 54-yard run.
Adam Hess scored a pair of touchdowns and rushed for 68 yards. Quarterback Scott Eilerman also rushed for 68 yards, while Sam Kukura rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown.
The story of the night was the Crestview’s inability to take advantage of three second quarter scoring chances. The first missed opportunity came in the early stages of the second period. The Rebels moved down to the 16, but missed a field goal. In the middle stages of the period, they recovered a fumble at the Kirtland 22, but turned the ball over on downs.
Then, just seconds after cutting its deficit to 14-7, Crestview recovered a fumble at the Kirtland 29. However, the possession ended on a fourth-down incompletion to the end zone.
“I can’t say enough about the way our defensive line performed tonight,” said Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde. “We went up against a great offense that is well-coached. Yet we were able to contain them at the line. Our guys did an outstanding job.”
Crestview coach Paul Cusick said his team simply didn’t take advantage of its opportunities.
“We made some mistakes that you just can’t make at this level and expect to win,” Cusick said. “We committed some penalties and other errors that we didn’t do all year long. But you have to give credit to Kirtland. Good teams force mistakes, and they are a very, very good team.”
Crestview scored its first touchdown in the latter stages of the second quarter on a Nick Blower 12-yard run. It’s other touchdown came with just 16 seconds left in the contest on a Matt Hardenbrook 8-yard reception from Collin Gilbert.
Blower rushed for 113 yards on 18 carries. However, Gilbert struggled to get the Rebels’ passing game in gear. He completed just 2-of-17 passes for 39 yards and threw a pair of interceptions. Both completions came in the waning minutes of the game.
Leading 14-7 at the break, Kirtland turned to its ground game in the second half and dominated the time of possession. Crestview ran just four plays from scrimmage in the third quarter.
“We went into the locker room and told our kids that when you run as much as we do, you have the opportunity to wear a team down in the second half,” LaVerde said. “We did a good job of controlling momentum after halftime.”
Meanwhile, Cusick said his team has no reason to hang its head following the defeat.
“Before the season started, we felt that if we went 7-3 or 8-2 it would be a successful season,” Cusick said. “This group worked extra hard to get to this point.”
“We just have to build from this and move forward.”