High School Football: Marion Local seeks 13th state championship

Flyers will face fellow small-school power Kirtland in Saturday’s Division VI title game

No need for scepters or trumpets to announce their return to the state final. Helmets, shoulder pads and execution are all these small-school royals require.

Marion Local and Kirtland are in a state final for a combined 27th time, all since 2000. They are the 21st century Kings of Small-Town Ohio, and neither seems close to abdicating the shared throne anytime soon. Of course, Coldwater, with its seven state titles since 2005, will surely fight for its seat at the table. But at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, the battle royale is on between the 15-0 squads from Marion Local and Kirtland.

“They’re almost like us,” Marion coach Tim Goodwin said. “We don’t do the same things, but we’ve just got a bunch of good high school players that play hard. It’s almost like we’re watching a mirror of ourselves.”

The mirror reflects some shared history as well. Marion Local won its state-record 12th state title last year (all since 2000 and seventh in Division VI) in 15 appearances to surpass big-school giant Cleveland St. Ignatius. Kirtland has won six titles, all since 2011, in 10 tries. These teams have met in three finals. Kirtland subdued the Flyers twice, winning 16-7 in 2018 and 22-20 in 2015. Marion Local beat the Hornets 34-11 in 2017.

Reclassification has brought the rivals back together. Marion Local won its fourth Division VII state title last year with a 42-7 rout of Newark Catholic. Kirtland lost the Division V final to Versailles. 20-16. When they last saw each other in2018, the Flyers’ senior class was in the eighth grade.

“I’m sure they were at that game,” Goodwin said. “Hopefully they remember how good Kirtland was and what a battle that was and how we weren’t able to make enough plays to win that game.”

As always, the Flyers have been the team making more plays all season, especially because of the defense. They’ve allowed a school-record low of 33 points and have 11 shutouts. They’ve allowed only a field goal in the playoffs and beat Columbus Grove 27-0 in the semifinals. Kirtland has six shutouts and has allowed 75 points. The most either team has allowed is 16.

“It’s going to be just a super competitive game that’s probably going to be low scoring,” Goodwin said. “In this day and age you need a couple of DBs that can really cover some good receivers, and we have that this year. We’re very fortunate we have good players in some key spots.”

All-Northwest District seniors lead the Flyers’ defense at every level. Linebacker Darren Meier is the district co-defensive player of the year. Tate Hess and Nathan Buschur lead the secondary, and Jake Topp is the leader on the line.

Kirtland lost 20 seniors off last year’s team, but the Hornets have made it back despite those losses and small senior class of 10. Head coach Tiger LaVerde turned the offense over this year to his son, freshman quarterback Jake LaVerde. He has rushed for 334 yards and passed for 980 yards. But it’s the rushing attack of Tommy Gogolin (1,643 yards) and Rocco Alfieri (1,264 yards) that will challenge the Flyers’ dominance.

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