|State championship: Raiders face big test in top-ranked Kirtland|
By KEVIN WANNEMACHER • Progress Sportswriter
HAVILAND – With the final week of the high school football season upon us, Wayne Trace looks to take one more record-breaking step as the Raiders battle Kirtland in the Division VI state championship game Friday at Fawcett Stadium in Canton.
For the Hornets, this is a familiar place with their third straight trip to the title game. Kirtland won the 2011 state title with a 28-7 win over Coldwater before losing to the Cavaliers in last year’s championship game 10-9.
However, this season Wayne Trace makes the long trip to eastern Ohio to battle the Hornets.
Kirtland head coach Tiger Laverde brings in an experienced squad that features a strong group of seniors, much like the Raiders.
Sixteen seniors will put on the Hornet uniform for the final time on Friday, many of which have seen experience in the past two state championship games.
No Hornet has more experience than senior Ryan Loncar, who will break the state record for games played when he takes the field for his 58th game in a Kirtland uniform on Friday.
“We have some kids who have been through state championship games so it may give us a little edge experience wise,” commented Laverde. “But this is a very talented and athletic team that we are playing on Friday. Their quarterback is very good and he makes a lot of plays with his athleticism.”
“Obviously, we are very excited to be in this position,” continued the Hornet mentor. “We set a goal in the offseason to get back to this point and the kids have worked really hard and done an outstanding job of preparing each week.”
Wayne Trace head coach Bill Speller feels much the same way when asked about the Raiders.
“When we missed the playoffs last year, we set a goal to get to this point,” commented the Raider head coach. “It’s something we have talked about with the kids a lot and maybe too much. The guys have put in a lot of time and effort in making this dream become a reality.”
The Hornets, though, may present the biggest challenge of the season for Wayne Trace.
Kirtland has compiled 4,960 rushing yards on the season as a team, averaging over eight yards per attempt and 354 yards per game. The Hornets have posted 6,616 yards of total offense on the season, an average of 472 yards per contest.
What the Hornets have accomplished on the ground, the Raiders have taken to the air. Wayne Trace has put up 4,976 passing yards, completing 307 of 508 passes on the season. The red, white and blue adds 2,085 rushing yards to post 7,061 total yards this year, an average of 500 yards per game in total offense.
It will be a battle of contrasting styles in Canton on Friday.
“You know, at this point, you have to do what you have done all season and just execute it better than the other team executes,” Laverde added. “You don’t want to try and chance what you do but you just want to do things better than them. Some things we do really well and some things they do very well. It’s so hard to gauge off of film and you just have to come out prepared on Friday.”
“We want to run the ball first and that is no secret,” noted the Tiger mentor. “They want to spread things out and throw it. It’s a great matchup of teams with contrasting styles.”
“They remind us of Tinora,” commented Speller. “They want to run the ball and they want to be able to control the ball and the clock. Defensively, they have a lot of athletes and they look like they have the athletes to match up with us. We know they are a good football team but we have to come out ready to play and be able to make adjustments as needed.”
Each team has been able to convert when facing third and fourth downs on the season. The Hornets have converted 46 percent (52 of 114) of their third down attempts while also making 14 of 35 (40 percent) fourth down attempts.
Meanwhile, Wayne Trace is 72 of 130 on third downs (55 percent) and 17 of 32 (53 percent) on fourth down.
Both teams also have come up with stops defensively when they have had the opportunity on third and fourth downs.
Kirtland has allowed only opponents to convert 38 of 187 attempts on third down (20 percent) and 14 of 50 (28 percent) on fourth down. The Raiders limited their opponents to making 36 of 157 third down attempts (23 percent) and 8 of 32 fourth down (25 percent) tries.
“They don’t run a lot of tricky stuff,” Speller added of the Hornets. “They are very quick, very athletic and they are very well coached. They don’t appear to be big size wise but they are very strong.”
“Our community is very excited and they have showed tremendous support,” Laverde stated. “Our kids have great family support. We ask a lot of the kids and the parents are very good about allowing the kids to work very hard. We have a lot of parents who have coached in the youth football program. I believe success breeds success and we have seen our roster grow from 35-40 kids to now we are 72. We like our kids to have a lot of fun but yet we work them very hard in practice as well.
“We have to prepare harder this week than we have all season,” concluded the Hornet mentor. “This is no time to be satisfied. We have to try and play our best game of the year Friday morning.”
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