CANTON (OHSAA) - In a rematch of the 2015 and 2017 state title games, No. 1 Kirtland defeated No. 3 Maria Stein Marion Local 16-7 to win the OHSAA Division VI football state championship on Friday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
In the 2015 matchup, Kirtland won by a score of 22-20, and in 2017, Marion Local won 34-11.
"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. They had a great team. 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. They didn't take a day off."
Neither team was able to score in the opening quarter, but Kirtland (15-0) ended the quarter with a third and goal on the Marion Local two-yard line. Marion Local (13-2) stuffed the Kirtland run to open the second quarter but were flagged for encroachment, giving Kirtland a first and goal from the one. The Hornets took advantage as senior running back Jake Neibecker ran it in to give Kirtland a 7-0 lead. Neibecker was the game's leading rusher, finishing with 107 yards on 17 carries.
On the ensuing Marion Local possession, the Flyers capped off a 10-play 65-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run of their own by junior running back Brandon Fleck.
Following back-to-back three and outs for both offenses, Kirtland regained the lead with a 7-yard touchdown run by junior running back Luke Gardner with just over one minute remaining in the half.
Marion Local had a promising drive following the Kirtland score but senior quarterback Nathan Bruns was intercepted in the end zone by senior defensive back Connor Gron to secure a 13-7 halftime lead for Kirtland.
The lone score in the second half came on Kirtland's first possession. The Hornets drove down to the Marion Local 15-yard line and converted a 32-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Mario Rodin.
Marion Local had two drives in the fourth quarter looking to make it a one-score game. Beginning at its own 10-yard line, the Flyers drove 78 yards but were unable to convert a fourth and four at the Kirtland 12-yard line.
The Marion Local defense proceeded to force a three and out and the special teams came up big with a blocked punt at the Kirtland 20-yard line. Marion Local attempted an 18-yard field goal, but Kirtland's special teams got a blocked kick of its own and essentially ended Marion Local's chance of a three-peat.
The 16-7 final score is the third-lowest (lowest since 2006) combined score in an OHSAA Division VI state championship game.
Marion Local was looking to win an OHSAA record-tying 11th state title.
With Marion Local's loss, this is the first year since 2003 that a team from the Midwest Athletic Conference will not win a football state championship.
It is Kirtland's fourth state championship and seventh trip to the title game in the last eight years.