Football state championship: Marion Local falls short in title game

Its running game all but shut down and a quick-strike passing game stuck in neutral, Marion Local met its rare match in Friday’s Division VI high school football state championship.

»» PHOTOS: Marion Local vs. Kirtland

Kirtland’s defensive-minded 16-7 shutdown of Marion Local was significant because few teams have been unable to do that to the Flyers during their eight-year run of state titles.

“If you would have told me we hold them to 16, I thought we would win,” Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin said. “We just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone.”

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Marion Local (13-2) will have to wait for next season to have another shot at matching Cleveland St. Ignatius for the most all-time state championships (11). The loss snapped the Flyers’ two-season streak of winning D-VI state titles. It was the eighth straight year for the Midwest Athletic Conference champs to play for a state championship.

Instead, it’s Kirtland (15-0) that won its forth title, all since 2011. Kirtland also captured the state-title rubber match between the small-school titans, winning 22-20 in 2015 but falling 34-11 last year.

“The fuel is we were humbled,” said Kirtland head coach Tiger LaVerde when asked what was different this year compared to last. “They whipped us (last season). … It was pretty lopsided. When you get knocked down, you have two choices. You can get up and fight and go to work every day, which these kids did. These kids fought and they clawed and they scratched to get back here.”

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Kirtland was defensive with Marion Local like few teams have done, especially this season. The Flyers often had just enough of a running game “to keep teams honest,” said Goodwin.

But that didn’t happen against a Kirtland defensive front that was larger, faster and more brawling when needed most, particularly when the Flyers dented their red zone. Marion Local had just 41 yards rushing. That was telling when the Flyers couldn’t score after twice surging inside Kirtland’s 15 in the second half.

In contrast, Kirtland had 303 yards rushing and completed all three of its passes.

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Flyers quarterback Nathan Bruns completed 16 of 35 passes for 187 yards. His lone interception came in the final seconds of the first half in Kirtland’s end zone, another near-red zone whiff.

“We just didn’t make plays,” said Bruns, one of Marion Local’s most prolific passers in program history. “We knew what was coming. They just made good plays.”

Flyers senior receiver Nick Tangeman, so effective in last year’s title game, had four catches for 59 yards. Matt Rethman led the Flyers with five catches for 69 yards and Nolan Habodsz also had four catches.

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Trailing 7-0, Marion Local pulled even on Brandon Fleck’s 1-yard run early in the second quarter. Kirtland took the lead for good with less than two minutes left in the first half and added a field goal early in the third quarter to complete scoring.

“It hurts, but I’m proud of them and the community’s proud of them,” Goodwin said. “We played hard and we battled. We were severely out-gunned in terms of size and strength and weight but our defense battled like crazy. I’m proud of them.”

It’s the first time a MAC team hasn’t won a state title since the 2003 season.

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