COLDWATER — The common link between Coldwater and Kirtland coming into Friday’s Division V state championship game is a team that didn’t even make the playoffs this season.
Both teams bowed out of the playoffs the last two seasons at the hands of private school power Youngstown Ursuline. Coldwater lost the last two Division V title game to the Irish. Kirtland fell earlier in the playoffs the last two years to Ursuline.
The two squads meet at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium on Friday morning at 11 a.m.
Both head coaches said they’re eager to play what they think will be a closely contested championship game.
“We’ve lost to Ursuline the last couple of years, they’ve lost to Ursuline the last couple of years,” said Kirtland head coach Tiger LaVerde, who was named Division V’s Coach of the Year by the Associated Press on Wednesday. “Coldwater’s been fortunate to be on the other side of the state. We’ve run into them earlier last few years. We could’ve been in this game the last few years.”
The Cavaliers’ best shots against the Northeast Ohio power weren’t quite good enough. Last year’s 51-21 title game loss to Mr. Football Akise Teague and the Irish dealt a second straight championship game disappointment to another otherwise model year for the Cavs.
“We have a town of 5,000,” Chip Otten said. “If you’re from Youngstown — I don’t know how big, it’s much bigger than 5,000. You can basically put together an all-star team. That’s an advantage. In saying that, it’s a great challenge to go beat those teams. We beat (Cardinal) Mooney a couple of times. “
“No one would go from Coldwater to go play for St. Henry,” Otten said.
But Ursuline won’t be there this Friday when both teams reach for the state championship hardware, as the Irish missed the playoffs after a grueling run through the Youngstown area’s finest.
The Cavs will be there, ready with another sound team that is peaking in the postseason.
“We’ve kind of hit our stride here,” Otten said.
Coldwater drubbed Hicksville 41-21 last week and outscored its first three postseason foes 103-12.
Coldwater pairs a big-play offense keyed by quarterback Austin Bruns and explosive slot receiver Caleb Siefring with a defense that has given up 34 points in four playoff games.
“Coldwater has 75 kids,” LaVerde said. “They don’t put a bad player on the field. They’ve got 11 really, really good players. With division five schools you can usually find a couple of guys you want to pick on. You don’t see anyone like that on Coldwater. They don’t have any wimps on their team. I don’t see us lining up and running the ball right down their throat like we have everyone else.”
(Coldwater) lost to Marion Local. They’re still playing. They lost to Kenton. They’re still playing,” LaVerde added.
Coldwater’s only other loss came to Minster in Week 10.
“We’ve seen a good mixture of styles,” Otten said. “We’ve seen this and we’ve seen this. We don’t have to play out of our minds to get a win this week. I think we’ve played 11 playoff teams now this year since the beginning of year.”
Bruns’ maturation has been one of the big differences down the stretch for the Cavaliers.
“Austin has made better decisions,” Otten said. “Last year, he just played as a young guy with a lot of veterans around him. This year he’s taken on a leadership role. More importantly, he’s really improved his decision-making throwing ball away. Early in the season he was making too many checks. We told him, ‘Let’s run the play and something that can be a big play and not be scrambling around too much.’”
Kirtland is a power running team that will go into a double tight end formation and deliver a steady dose of power football with a thunder and lightning combo in fullback Christian Hauber and tailback Damon Washington.
Hauber is a 6-foot-1, 218 pound senior who is headed to the Air Force Academy to play football.
“He’s a talented young man,” LaVerde said. “He’s a bull. He’s got 65 touchdowns in career.”
“Damon Washington our speedster, but he’s stronger than people think,” LaVerde said. “We run him between the tackles, too. He’s only 170 pounds, but he doesn’t go down with an arm tackle.”
LaVerde doesn’t plan on changing up anything this week. The Hornets will run the ball.
“Teams gear up every week to stop them and they haven’t been able to do it so far,” LaVerde said. “Coldwater is a pretty good defensive ballclub. It’ll be interesting to see how things go. You don’t win 14 games and then just switch. If I did that, I’d be upset with myself. We’ve won by surprisingly large margins by playing great defense and running the football. We grind out yards. We try to shorten the game and physically try to wear teams down.
Coldwater will make one adjustment to its line-up after Allen Kunk suffered an MCL injury last week on a cut block. Alex Grieshop will now go both ways for the Cavs. Otten said he’ll rotate players in to keep Grieshop fresh.
Projected Starting Line-Ups and Statistics: