The Ohio High School Football Season concluded with a bang this past weekend. Per tradition, the
championship games for all seven divisions were played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
This year, the iconic venue saw the continuation of a dynasty, a traditional powerhouse playing the role of Cinderella, and pure dominance by teams from Northeast Ohio.
We start with what I said 4 weeks ago would be the game of the year in Ohio high school football. First
out of the gate last Thursday night was a heavyweight fight for the ages between a pair of 14-0 teams.
On one side stood Northeast regional champion Akron Archbishop Hoban, a modern dynasty looking for
a 4-peat. On the other side stood Southeast regional champion Massillon Washington, a historically
great team looking to restore the glory of yesteryear. With neither side having to travel far, even on a school night, Tom Benson Stadium was packed to capacity. It was time to settle it on the field.
Hoban stormed out of the gates. Tailback Tyris Dickerson ended the first drive with a 13-yard
touchdown run to put Hoban up 7-0. The onslaught was continued by quarterback Shane Hamm, who
both ran and threw for scores. They scored 4 times in the game’s first 15 minutes to take a 27-0 lead.
In the air or on the ground, Hoban played with the heart and determination of a champion, executing
virtually every play that was called. Hoban rang up over 350 yards of offense in a first half that saw
them leading 35-7 at the interval.
Most teams down 4 scores to a 3-time defending state champion at halftime would almost certainly fold
up the tents and just try to get everybody to the final whistle still healthy. But Massillon is no ordinary program, and no ordinary title challenger. The Tigers stormed back in the 3rd quarter, scoring 20 unanswered points with a flurry of big plays to cut the Hoban lead to 8. Suddenly what looked to be a coronation had turned into a real duel, and the crowd in Canton roared with anticipation.
Massillon’s defense was charged up. They managed to stop Hoban on a 3rd down and appeared poised
to get the ball back with a chance to tie the game. But then Hoban did the seemingly unthinkable. On
4th down, they called a fake punt. The play caught the Tigers off guard, and Hoban picked up a first
down to keep the drive alive. A few plays later, Deamonte Trayanum scored to put Hoban up 42-27. The
Hoban defense then stepped up big on the ensuing drive, stopping Massillon on 4 th down. From there,
the Hoban ground attack, which had 369 yards rushing on the night, churned the clock. Before long, it
was all over and despite a very spirited fightback from Massillon, Hoban had their 4-peat.
The morning came, and it was onto the Division 6 title game between top ranked Kirtland and underdog
Maria Stein Marion. Maria Stein was only the 3 seed in the Northwest Region but was able to overcome
the odds to make it to Canton. Kirtland found the end zone early in the 2nd quarter on a 1-yard run by
senior Jake Neibecker to take a 7-0 lead, but it wasn’t long until Maria Stein answered, connecting on
several long pass plays to set up a touchdown of their own to make it 7-7. Kirtland managed to re-assert their advantage just before halftime on a 14-play, 63 yard drive that took nearly 6 minutes off the clock before Luke Gardner’s 7-yard touchdown run to make it 13-7.
From there, the story became the Kirtland defense. Maria Stein struggled all day to do anything on the
ground, netting just 41 rushing yards. A Kirtland field goal made it 16-7. But the game was thrown into
question early in the 4th quarter when Maria Stein blocked a Kirtland punt and took over at the Kirtland 20. The game’s key play came on the ensuing drive, when Kirtland stopped Maria Stein on 3rd and goal, forcing 4th and goal at the 2. Maria Stein, needing 2 scores, elected to take the “easy” 3 points, but was denied when Kirtland star Jack Bailey blocked the field goal attempt. This all but iced the game and delivered Kirtland’s 4th state championship. When asked about the block, Bailey said
he hit the ball with his elbow, noting, “I was like, oh, that’s pretty cool.”
Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde said, “I trust these dudes. I trust our guys to execute the play that is called…when it’s 4th and 1 in the state championship, here’s the play we’re going to run. We’re going to execute it. We talk about that from Day 1 [of practice].”
Northeast Ohio’s run of success continued into the afternoon, as Chagrin Falls Kenston faced Kettering
Bishop Alter in the Division 3 title game. Kenston came into the game confident, and though they
spotted Kettering the first touchdown of the game, that confidence never wavered. They immediately
hit back on an 11-play 75-yard drive to take a 7-6 lead. From there, it was a complete demolition.
Junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik threw 3 touchdown passed on the night. Kenston rang up 425 yards
of offense on the night and their defense forced 3 interceptions and recovered 2 fumbles on the night.
If there was a key play in the game, it was likely early in the 3rd quarter. With Kenson leading 21-6 and facing 4th and 6 at the Kettering 16, Kenston elected to go for it and not only converted, but found the end zone on a 16-yard td pass. Kenston would score 42 unanswered points to win 42-6.
The third time was the charm for Kenston, as they had lost their two previous appearances in the state
finals. “I’m just proud of these guys, this team, these coaches,” Kenston coach Jeff Grubich said. “I
understand how hard it is to do this, it’s a 15-week grind. To be able to finish means a lot.”
This game was also noteworthy and satisfying in another way than just the scoreboard or even the trophy. With the game tied 6-6 following Kenston’s first touchdown, senior kicker Anna Sanders came onto the field for the PAT. Her attempt was good, making her the first female to ever score a point in an Ohio high school state finals game. Coach Grubich said that Sanders had earned the job the previous season after two other kickers had suffered injuries. When asked about the moment, Grubich said simply, “That’s awesome.”
Then came nighttime, and if the Division 2 title game was an encounter of top-seeded heavyweights, the
Division 1 title game was a battle of expected versus unexpected. Top seeded Cincinnati Colerain
stormed their way to a Southwest regional championship and produced chalk on their way to Canton.
Meanwhile, traditional powerhouse Saint Edward lost 4 times in the regular season and barely squeaked
into the playoffs as the Northeast Regional’s 7 seed. Saint Edward’s title run was widely expected to end in their first playoff game against rival Saint Ignatius. But the Eagles upset Ignatius, then pulled off a monster upset in the regional final, beating top seeded Mentor. Following a state semifinal win against Olentangy Liberty, the Eagles made it to Canton. They would be a heavy underdog against powerful Colerain, but it was a role that by now the Eagles relished.
The game was a tight one for much of the first 3 quarters. After a very defensive first 19 minutes,
Colerain took the lead on a Syncere Jones 16-yd touhdown pass from Deante Smith-Moore. St Edward answered with a quick drive that only took 30 seconds, ending in a Jordan Castleberry 1-yd touchdown dive. After trading field goals, it was 10-10. About to kick off to Colerain with about 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, St. Edward pulled out the greatest play in football and the biggest of all gambles, the surprise onside kick.
Kicker Gianluco Russo squibbed the ball straight upfield and recovered it himself, setting off wild
celebration on the St Edward sideline and leaving Colerain supporters in shock. St Edward rode their
momentum down the field, taking the lead on a 23-yard strike from Garrett Dzuro to Quintel Kent. The
two would later hook up again on a 19-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-10 Eagles. Colerain would never
threaten again afterward and the journey from 7th seeded afterthought to state champ was complete.
Senior running back Jordan Castleberry perhaps said it best. “If you come to one of our practices, you
see the kickers doing some weird stuff. Really weird stuff. We do some goofy stuff that we’d never do
in the regular season. Coach Lombardo is very intelligent.” He would later go on to say that he felt a
major advantage for St Edward was the fact that they had played 5 previous games decided by a
touchdown or less, whereas Colerain had rarely been threatened with defeat on their march to Canton.
This experience could have well been the difference in a tied game in the 3rd quarter.
Northeast Ohio would complete a sweep of their matchups on Saturday afternoon as Orrville defeated
Johnstown-Monroe in a 49-34 shootout. The game saw both teams ring up over 400 yards of offense, a
combined 907 yards between them. Orrville’s 2 primary runners had incredible nights, as quarterback
Logan Domer had 207 yards rushing on just 10 carries, 4 of which went for touchdowns, and running
back Marquael Parks added 198 yards on 22 carries, scoring 3 times. The win was Orrville’s 2nd state
championship and their first since 1998.
It will be a while before August comes and practice begins anew on the gridirons of Northeast Ohio, but
one thing is for sure, places like Akron, Lakewood, Chagrin Falls, Orrville, and Kirtland won’t be losing memory of this season for quite a while.