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2023 OHSAA Football State Championships Preview

November 28, 2023
2023 OHSAA Football State Championships Preview
Lakewood St. Edward
By Matt Goul, Cleveland.com
St. Edward knows this stage well. The Eagles not only are going for their third straight state championship, but their fifth under coach Tom Lombardo, who took over the program after a title run in 2014 under Rick Finotti. This three-peat bid is led by a towering offensive line, which includes three seniors headed to the Big Ten in Michigan-bound right tackle Ben Roebuck with twins Devontae and Deontae Armstrong on the left. They are head to Ohio State and will play their final game together as a trio Friday night against Springfield, which they helped beat in last year’s final.
They also will be blocking for senior quarterback Casey Bullock one final time. Bullock, a Davidson commit, has overcome a knee injury to make it back on the field. It cost him two starts midway through the regular season, including St. Edward’s lone loss at Massillon. He appeared to reaggravate it in a Week 10 win at Akron Archbishop Hoban. Junior Thomas Csanyi, who started in his absence, played through the first four rounds before Bullock’s return in a Region 1 final win against Medina.
However, the emergence of sophomore running back Brandon White behind Bullock and that big offensive line has taken some pressure off the quarterback. White, who had a career-high 262 yards rushing in a Week 9 win against Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller, carried the football 40 times for 217 yards and three touchdowns in the Eagles’ state semifinal victory Friday in Mansfield against Hilliard Bradley.
The defense gave up just three points to a Hilliard Bradley team that played without Mr. Football finalist Bradyn Fleharty, who was injured on the Jaguars’ winning touchdown the previous week. The Eagles took advantage, and linebackers Nate Gregory and Jon Slaper took advantage with five combined sacks.
Those two have led St. Edward in similar fashion to last year’s edge rushing tandem of Michael Kilbane and Wyatt Gedeon, who are now at Northwestern and Coastal Carolina. While Gregory, a junior, and Slaper aren’t being as heavily recruited as those two, they are in the middle of a defense that features Notre Dame commit Loghan Thomas as an edge rusher with Northwestern recruit Troy Regovich up front on the line. The secondary also has senior cornerback Cam Boone, who holds an Eastern Michigan offer, and gained notoriety in Week 2 for his play against Florida State-bound receiver Elijah Moore during a nationally televised game on ESPN against Maryland’s Our Lady of Good Counsel. Boone is one of two returning starters in the secondary, which includes junior safety Bradley Eaton.
By Michael Cooper, Cox Media Group: Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun and The Journal-News
After one of the most unlikely postseason runs in OHSAA history, the Springfield Wildcats (10-5) are back in the Division I state championship game for the third straight season.
Springfield beat Cincinnati Moeller 26-19 in overtime in a state semifinal thriller on Nov. 24 in Piqua to advance to Canton for the third year in a row. The Wildcats will face a familiar opponent in Lakewood St. Edward, who beat Springfield in back-to-back title games — 23-13 in 2021 and 28-14 last season.
The Wildcats’ road to Canton was bumpier than previous seasons. Springfield started the season 3-5, beating Miamisburg and Northmont in Weeks 9 and 10 to finish the regular season 5-5. The Wildcats, coached by Maurice Douglass, entered the D-I, Region 2 playoffs as the No. 12 seed. They won rematches against Greater Western Ohio Conference rivals Wayne and Centerville in the first two rounds before beating top-seeded Olentangy and sixth-seeded Dublin Coffman to claim their fifth straight regional championship.
The Wildcats defensive unit, allowing 16.5 points per game, is led by senior cornerback and Ohio State University commit Aaron Scott (two interceptions), junior linebacker Kyron Dolby (142 total tackles) and junior defensive end Jackson Heims (20.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks). Offensively, the Wildcats are led by senior running back Jayvin Norman (1,294 rushing yards, 17 TDs) and sophomore running back Deontre Long (870 yards rushing, 8 TDs). Wildcats junior quarterback Brent Upshaw, Jr. has thrown for 1,361 yards and 13 TDs. Springfield’s top receiving targets are senior Da’Shawn Martin (36 catches, 649 yards, six TDs), a Kent State commit, and senior Duncan Bradley III (50 catches, 554 yards, five TDs).
Springfield, the highest-seeded team to ever advance to a state championship game, has won seven straight games. With a victory, the Wildcats would become the first 11-5 team to win the state championship since the playoffs expanded three years ago. The last D-I team to win the state championship after a 5-5 start was Cincinnati St. Xavier in 2016.
Springfield is seeking Clark County’s state football championship since the Ohio High School Athletic Association playoff era began in 1972. Only three programs in Clark County history have advanced to the state championship game — Catholic Central (1991), Shawnee (2011) and Springfield (2021, 2022, 2023).
Akron Archbishop Hoban
By Brad Bournival, Akron Beacon Journal
Coach Tim Tyrrell has a 129-21 record (.860) in his 11th year at Akron Archbishop Hoban. Tyrrell is 194-72 (.729) combined with the 11 seasons he coached at St. Thomas Aquinas and Chaminade-Madonna College Prep (Hollywood, Fla.). This is Hoban’s eighth state title appearance in nine seasons. The Knights have won five state titles and finished runner-up twice as a program.
This will be the third OHSAA state finalist Hoban has played this season. The Knights beat Division IV representative Cleveland Glenville 28-16 on Oct. 4 but lost 14-7 to Division I representative Lakewood St. Edward on Oct. 20.
They also beat Kentucky state champ Frederick Douglass 45-6 on Aug. 19 and two-time Virginia state champ Trinity Episcopal School 34-6 on Sept. 2. Trinity Episcopal just wrapped up its season with a runner-up finish on Nov. 18.
This will be the fifth time in six seasons Hoban and Massillon have played each other in the playoffs. The Knights hold Division II state title wins over the Tigers in 2020 (Hoban 35, Massillon 6) and 2018 (Hoban 42, Massillon 28).
The championship is a rematch of last season’s state semifinal won by Hoban 41-20. The only time the Knights didn’t reach the final in the last nine seasons was 2019 when Massillon beat them 17-14 in the Division II, Region 5 final.
Hoban comes in with two Northeast Inland co-Players of the Year in offensive tackle William Satterwhite and defensive tackle Jordan Pritchard-Sewell. Both seniors are in line to receive first-team All-Ohio honors. Pritchard-Sewell was second team all-state last season. Satterwhite was honorable mention All-Ohio.
The Knights are loaded with Division I recruits. Satterwhite (Tennessee) and Pritchard-Sewell (Holy Cross) join Eli Lee (Ohio State), Rickey Williams (West Virginia), Devin Bell (Miami), Caleb Schlater (Miami), Tysen Campbell (Central Michigan) and Jvon Lindsey (Wofford) will be playing at the next level soon. Sophomore’s Payton Cook, Elbert Hill and Sam Greer already have offers from Ohio State among many other Power Five schools. Freshman Brayton Feister has an offer from Akron.
Quarterback Tylan Boykin (86-of-134, 1,159, 13 TDs, 3 interceptions) started the season by throwing 113 passes without an interception. The junior made it to Week 14 before he opened the Division II, Region 5 final against Walsh Jesuit with a pick.
Hoban graduated 2023 Mr. Football running back Lamar Sperling last season to Buffalo but has a four-headed attack on the ground in Caleb Jones (162 carries, 1,069 yards, 17 TDs), Brayton Feister (131, 867, 10) Tylan Boykin (50, 465, 4) and Xavier Williams (33, 358, 4).
The Knights have 17 interceptions on the season. Elbert Hill (7) and Tysen Campbell (6) lead the way. Campbell (3), Hill (2), Tanner Mintz and Eli Lee have logged pick sixes this season. Elbert Hill has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and Tysen Campbell has two punt returns for scores.
Hoban’s defense has logged five safeties this season. Opponents have only scored 15 points or more once (Hoban 28, Cleveland Glenville 16) this season. The Knight have surrendered seven points or less nine times. Included in that are shutouts against Akron East and St. Ignatius.
Massillon Washington
By Chris Beaven, Canton Repository
The Massillon Tigers return to the state finals for the first time since three straight runner-up finishes in Division II from 2018-20. In the playoffs for the 30th time in program history, the Tigers have had more than half of those trips (16) end with at least an appearance in the state semifinals.
The Tigers are in the midst of a remarkable extended run of postseason success under head coach Nate Moore — who last year passed Paul Brown as the program’s all-time winningest coach. Since 2017, they are 24-1 in regional games under Moore, winning those games by an average of 26 points. That’s helped push their all-time playoff record to 56-29. What’s eluded the Tigers, though, is a state title. They’ve yet to win a championship in the OHSAA playoff era, finishing as a runner-up six times.
Massillon arrives at this state final with a 15-0 record and ranked No. 1 in the state in Division II, according to the Associated Press. They’ve outscored their opposition 611-114 this year.
In the playoffs, they have yet to allow more than seven points in any of the five games, outscoring teams 212-32.
Further example of their dominance: Massillon has 52 rushing touchdowns this season while yielding just two rushing TDs.
Massillon’s defense is nearly averaging as many tackles for loss per game (7.5) as they do points allowed per game (7.6). The Tigers get it done by shutting down the running game (33.3 yards allowed per game on 1.5 yards per carry) and getting after the quarterback (44 sacks). Thirteen Massillon defenders have at least 22 total tackles, led by linebackers Cody Fair (72) and Dorian Pringle (60).
Pringle, the Northeast Inland District Co-Defensive Player of the Year, has missed the last three games with an ankle injury. His status is unknown for the title game. Despite missing the last three games, the Bowling Green commit still leads the Tigers with 21.5 tackles for loss.
Other tackles for loss leaders are Fair (17), Michael Wright Jr. (15.5) and Chase Bond (11). Wright Jr. leads with 10.5 sacks followed by Pringle (8) and Bond (7.5). Bond, a defensive end, is a North Carolina State commit.
Tyler Hackenbracht and Adonis Marshall each have a team-high three interceptions.
With Massillon averaging 40.7 points per game, it’s obvious the Tigers do not lack talent on that side of the ball. They’re averaging 249.4 rushing yards per game behind an offensive line led by first-team all-district performer Nolan Davenport (6-6, 260, jr.) and second-team honoree Brady Jones (6-3, 245, sr.)
Senior quarterback DaOne Owens leads Massillon in rushing and passing yards. He is the Northeast Inland District Co-Offensive Player of the Year. Owens became the first Tiger QB to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He enters the finals with 1,220 yards and a team-high 15 TDs, while averaging 9.9 yards per carry. He opened last week’s 55-7 rout of Cincinnati Anderson with 68-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage.
Owens also has thrown for 1,549 yards, completing 60.0% of his 171 attempts. He has thrown 18 TD passes and just three interceptions. But the Massillon offense is far from a one-man show. Four running backs have at least 50 carries — Ja'Meir Gamble (138 for 945 yards, 5 TDs), Peytton Mitchell (71-444, 2), Mylen Lenix (58-327, 5) and Pringle (50-246, 14).
And when the Tigers get near the goal line, watch out for the 5-10, 280-pound Wright Jr., who is far more than a wrecking ball as a defensive tackle. As a short-yardage back, Wright Jr. has scored eight TDs on just 28 carries for 113 yards.
In the passing game, Owens has four receivers with more than 13 catches. Braylyn Toles leads in catches with 45 for 614 yards (13.6 average) and eight TDs. Jacques Carter leads in yards with 784 on 39 catches (20.1 average) with seven TDs. The other two top targets are Emy Louis Jr, (14-364, 7) and Kyler Wiggins (13-152, 2).
Louis Jr. also has two kickoff return TDs despite just returning three kicks this season. Also on special teams, Vinny Keller has converted 55 of 57 on PATs. He also has a 35-yard field goal.
Toledo Central Catholic
By Steve Junga, Toledo Blade
The top-ranked Fighting Irish (15-0) take a 30-game winning streak into their bid for a second straight state playoff championship, this one in Division III after winning the D-II title a year ago.
Central's last loss came in Week 1 of the 2022 season, a 23-20 setback at Lakewood St. Edward, which is bidding for its third straight Division I state championship this weekend. The Irish are coached by Greg Dempsey, who is in his 24th season (251-53 record). He has guided Central to Division II titles in 2005, 2012, and last year, and to a D-III crown in 2014. Under Dempsey, the Irish were also D-III runners-up in 2015, and reached semifinals in 2016, 2017, and 2019. This year's team began the season needing to replace starters at 14 of 22 offensive and defensive positions after topping Akron Archbishop Hoban 28-21 in the 2022 D-III state final.
The Irish have built around five seniors who were offensive line starters a year ago, one of which (Davonte' Wright-Ward) switched to linebacker this season and was named first team all-district there before being sidelined by a leg fracture in the D-III regional semifinals.
Leading that O line contingent are Kentucky commit Marc Nave (OT), and fellow all-district selection Elijah Williams (OG), who has committed to Kent State.
The offensive strength has been the senior-junior backfield rotation of Marquan Braswell (1,733 rushing yards, 29 TD) and Tyler Morgan (1,010 yards, 25 TD). Braswell left the state semifinal game last Friday with an apparent upper-body injury.
Triggering the offense is senior QB Terry Collins, who is 115 of 168 (68 percent) passing for 1,873 yards and 15 touchdowns with five interceptions. Collins' top target is senior Iowa commit Jaylen Watson, a wideout who has 59 catches for 1,075 yards and nine touchdowns, plus 17 rushes for 118 yards and four scores.
Anchoring the Central defense up front are senior linemen Mike Cannings, who was a first team D-II All-Ohioan in 2022, and Ronald Collins, another first team all-district choice. The secondary is led by senior all-district first-teamers Marvon Greenlee and Jayden Barnes.
In last Friday's 35-7 semifinal win over Chardon, Greenlee returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, and scored on a 40-yard catch in the third quarter.
Central has outscored foes 579-159 through 15 games (38.6 to 10.6 per game). The Irish won Region 10 playoff games over Bowling Green, 42-7, Defiance, 41-26, Mansfield Senior, 41-10, and Tiffin Columbian, 41-6.
Columbus Bishop Watterson
By Jarrod Ulrey, CBUSsports.com
Watterson is competing in its sixth state final, with its last appearance coming in 2010 when it won its second title.
The Eagles enjoyed just three winning seasons from 2011-21 before breaking through with a Region 11 runner-up finish a year ago and their ninth regional championship this fall.
Under coach Brian Kennedy, a 1992 graduate of the school, Watterson has gone 49-29 in seven seasons, including 14-1 this fall.
Much like the Eagles’ 2010 state championship team which allowed just 8.4 points per game, this year’s formula for success has centered around playing stout defense.
Led by senior linebacker Dominic Purcell, a Navy commit who was a finalist for Mr. Football, the Eagles are giving up an average of 9.5 points. Purcell has 38 tackles for loss, eight sacks and five interceptions, including two that he returned for touchdowns. 
A first-team all-state honoree a year ago, Purcell also has four touchdown receptions while playing at tight end and two blocked punts.
Purcell, the Central District’s Defensive Player of the Year, was joined on the all-district first team by senior quarterback A.J. McAninch, junior wide receiver Jake Uhlenhake, senior kicker Rudy Kessinger, senior linebacker Braxton Rundio and senior punter Noah Thomas.
McAninch is a Marshall baseball commit who has thrown 36 touchdown passes.
Freshman Ben Uhlenhake, who is Jake Uhlenhake’s brother, has been splitting carries at running back with junior Zack Weber. The Uhlenhake brothers are the sons of Jeff Uhlenhake, who was a four-year starter for Ohio State and played for 10 seasons in the NFL.
Cleveland Glenville
By Matt Goul, Cleveland.com
Glenville’s senior class, which missed the 2020 season as freshmen during the coronavirus pandemic, have a chance to finish their story with one more state championship.
They led the Tarblooders to their first title last year behind bulldozing rusher D’Shawntae Jones and Ohio State recruits Damarion Witten and Bryce West. Glenville will be without West for this final game, as he aggravated a shoulder injury in a regional final victory against Sandusky Perkins. In the meantime, Jones exceeded 250 yards rushing in each of Glenville’s last two wins.
A 5-foot-10, 235-pounder, Jones scored 26 touchdowns in the regular season with 22 of them coming via the ground game, where he had 1,509 yards on 131 carries. He rushed for 100 yards in all but one game against Division II state semifinalist Avon, but eclipsed that mark against IMG Academy and Akron Archbishop Hoban, which gave up a season-high 158 yards to him.
Jones is coming off a 256-yard performance with three rushing TDs and one passing TD to Witten in Glenville’s 42-21 state semifinal win against Canton South.
“I’ve said it all year. I think he’s under recruited,” said coach Ted Ginn Sr., who also had Jones’ uncle, Cardale Jones. “I think he’s Mr. Football, based on how we ride him. You don’t get 250 yards back-to-back in a playoff game and not be a tough back, and we’re playing against good teams.”
For as big as Glenville’s seniors have been, Ginn considers this a much younger team than the one that reached Canton a year ago.
He has a slew of juniors, started four sophomores last week, and even plays a few freshmen. Junior defensive end Jameil Hamm is one of the bigger ones. He had seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss in the regular season, and managed to add to that total Friday with a sack of Canton South quarterback Poochie Snyder. He holds a slew of Mid-American Conference offers and has visited Big Ten schools.
Sophomore middle linebacker Cincere Johnson, whose older brother and senior Fred Johnson Jr. is a Louisville recruit at left tackle, took over in the center of the defense for Arvell Reese, who is now at Ohio State. The secondary boasts two sophomores, including C.J. Newell — who had one of three interceptions last week — and Aaron Scales. They are a peek at Glenville’s future, which has been re-established by this senior class.
“It’s not just for us,” Jones said Friday after the state semifinals, “but to give back to the community and open more gates for younger guys coming up behind us, and Coach (Ted) Ginn. Everything’s for Coach Ginn.”
Kettering Archbishop Alter
By Jeff Gilbert, Dayton Daily News
The discussion about how Kettering Alter advanced to the Division IV state final begins with defense.
The Knights, looking for their third state title, shut out Cincinnati Wyoming 17-0 in the Region 12 final and Steubenville 48-0 in the state semifinals. In five playoff games, the Knights have allowed nine points and registered three shutouts.
The leader is senior linebacker Henry Reifschneider who fills gaps and hits ball carriers as well as any player Ed Domsitz has ever coached. Reifschneider, a first-team all-Southwest District selection, led the Knights with 138 tackles, including 12 for loss, entering the Steubenville game. His season high is 21 tackles against top-seeded Clinton-Massie in a 21-3 regional semifinal win.
Other defensive players to watch for the Knights are junior linebacker Connor Watkins, sophomore end Nolan Ogburn (team-high 14 TFLs), senior safety Michael Russ and senior defensive back Collin Wehner (three fumble recoveries, four interceptions).
The Knights’ have ridden this defensive wave from a 2-2 start to a 12-3 record and seven-game winning streak. The losses were not upsets.
Alter opened the season with a 24-21 loss to Kettering Fairmont (5-6), which finished 4-3 in the rugged Greater Western Ohio Conference and earned a No. 11 seed in Division I. In Week 4, they lost 35-27 to Trotwood-Madison (9-3), the No. 3 seed in Division III, Region 12. In Week 8, the Knights lost the battle for the Greater Catholic Co-ed League title 29-24 to Hamilton Badin (13-1), which earned the top seed in Division III, Region 12. Trotwood and Badin both lost close playoff games to state semifinalist Celina.
The Knights can score, too, with a young core in the backfield. They average 29.8 points a game for the entire season and 31.8 in the playoffs.
Junior quarterback Gavin Connor is a three-year starter and set the school record this season for career passing yards. Through the region final Connor passed for 1,430 yards and 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions in 194 attempts. He is also a dangerous runner and scrambler with 502 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Historically the Knights have been a running team under Domsitz, who used to run the wishbone almost exclusively and still lines up in it at times in obvious running situations. His all-sophomore backfield has evolved into multiple threats in the playoffs.
Noah Jones has been the featured rusher all season with 1,163 yards and 16 touchdowns. Rod Owens has emerged in recent games, including a 124-yard game, to make the Knights more difficult to defend. He has 546 yards and eight touchdowns. Short-yardage and goal-line fullback Mike Rose has nine touchdowns on 66 attempts and 294 yards.
Russ and fellow senior Carter Sheets are Connor’s top receivers. Russ has 29 catches for 476 yards and seven touchdowns. Sheets has 23 catches for 307 yards.
Domsitz, 74, is in his 49th season as a head coach and led the Knights to consecutive state titles in 2008 and 2009. This is the Knights’ 13th state appearance and sixth title game appearance. Domsitz, a member of the state coaches hall of fame, is fourth in state history with 379 career victories (307 at Alter).
By John Kampf, Willoughby News-Herald
Perry head coach Bob Gecewich is in his third year at Perry and is 36-6 so far with the Pirates. Prior to coming to Perry, he was the head coach at Dublin Jerome. He has prior state championship game experience as the quarterbacks coach at Marion Local in 2013-2014.
The Pirates are 15-0 this season and champions of the Chagrin Valley Conference's Chagrin Division. The marquee win of the season came in Week 3 when the Pirates defeated Division VI state finalist Kirtland, 24-6, a win that snapped Kirtland's 57-game regular-season winning streak that stretched back to 2016. Perry has only seven seniors on the roster.
Senior Brayden Richards won the adidas national championship in the decathlon this past spring in Greensboro, N.C., with a score of 7,042 points. He was first in six events (shot put, 400, discus, javelin, 110 hurdles and pole vault) and was second in the long jump (21-4 3/4) and 100 (10.84 seconds). He is an all-Ohio performer in three sports - track, football and basketball. He has committed to the Air Force Academy to run track.
Senior running back Jayden Studio has run for more than 1,300 yards this season. He has committed to Kent State University to play college football.
Junior running back/linebacker Owen McKoon is the grandson of legendary Perry football coach Bob Ritley, who played for Coach Bo Schembechler at Michigan and remained friends with Schembechler until Ritley passed away from cancer in 2003. McKoon has 136 tackles and 21 TFLs on defense, as well as 347 yards rushing on offense.
Nose tackle Drew Smith (5-6, 160) and linebacker Dominic LaMacchia (5-10, 170) are undersized, but credit their success in part to their wrestling background. Smith has 57 tackles and 11 TFLs this season, while LaMacchia has 96 tackles, 25 TFLs and eight sacks.
Among the notable Perry football alumni are Jacksonville Jaguars/Ohio State tight end Luke Farrell, Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and former ESPN 30-for-30 director Todd Kapostasy (who is married to former Olympic skater Tara Lipinski).
Liberty Center
By Jeff Ratliff, Northwest Signal
Liberty Center has been climbing the ladder to the Division V state championship, reaching the regional finals in 2021 and the state semifinals last year before breaking through with its 14-10 win over Germantown Valley View last week.
Liberty Center is making its fourth appearance in the state title game, with the Tigers winning a Division V state championship in 1997. They were state runners-up in 1993 and 1998. The Tigers have won eight regional titles, including the past two seasons. Over the last three seasons, Liberty Center is 12-2 in the postseason.
Overall, the Tigers are 43-21 in the playoffs.
This season, Liberty Center has been led by its tremendous senior class, which includes Landon Bockelman, who was All-Ohio last season, Landon Amstutz and the Kruse triplets - Colton, Trenton and Landen.
Colton and Trenton Kruse are the leading rushers for the Tigers, who run the Wing-T offense. Colton Kruse has rushed for 1,644 yards and 28 TDs, while Trenton Kruse has 1,270 yards rushing and 22 TDs.
The Tigers are averaging 44.2 points per game.
Defensively, Bockelman and senior Seth Navarre lead the team in sacks, while Cam Kahle has five interceptions. The Tigers are allowing 7.06 points per game this season, including the postseason and has not allowed more than 14 points in any game this season.
Coach Casey Mohler is in his seventh season and has a 76-14 record.
By John Kampf, Willoughby News-Herald
In his 17th year at Kirtland, Coach Tiger LaVerde has a 228-20 (.919) record. Combined with three seasons coaching in Pennsylvania, LaVerde's career record is 248-30 (.892). Per Kirtland's stat crew, his 91.9 winning percentage is the highest of any coach in OHSAA history with a minimum of 150 games coached.
This is Kirtland's 12th state title appearance in 13 seasons. The Hornets are 12-0 in regional championship games and have won six state championships to go with five state runner-up finishes.
Kirtland played two other state finalists this season, defeating Division VII state finalist Dalton (14-7) in the season opener and losing to Division V state finalist Perry (24-6) in Week 3. The loss to Perry snapped Kirtland's 57-game regular-season winning streak dating back to Week 9 of the 2016 season to Cuyahoga Heights.
Kirtland does not have open enrollment - a source of pride for Coach Tiger LaVerde and the program.
The game with Versailles is a rematch of the 2021 Division V state championship game won by Versailles, 20-16, a loss that ended Kirtland's 55-game winning streak that at the time was the longest winning streak in the nation.
Sophomore quarterback Jake LaVerde, the youngest of four children born to Coach LaVerde and his wife Mary, is 29-2 as the Hornets' starting quarterback. He has thrown for 1,103 yards and 16 touchdowns with five interceptions.
Senior running back/linebacker Rocco Alfieri (1,062 yards, 25 touchdowns) was a third team All-Ohio running back as a junior, but as the Northeast Lakes all-district football team's defensive player of the year, he is in line to have All-Ohio honors this season on the opposite side of the ball. He also has more than 100 tackles on defense and averages 36.8 yards per punt.
Senior running back/cornerback Will Beers (1,413 yards rushing, 19 total touchdowns) has scored via the run, pass, defense and kickoff return this year. His father, Willie Beers, played football at John Carroll where he is one of only five players to have their number retired there.
Family ties are deep on the team. Rocco Alfieri's brother (and Danny Alfieri's cousin) was former Kirtland All-Ohio lineman Mike Alfieri, who helped lead the Hornets to the 2018-19 state titles. Defensive end Will Bates is the younger brother of former Kirtland All-Ohio running back Joey Bates who helped lead the Hornets to the 2015 state championship. Fullback/linebacker Macguire Boyd is the younger brother of former Kirtland All-Ohio running back Jacob Boyd, a 2014 graduate.
Kirtland's offensive line is young, with guard Brady Burich being the only senior. The others are junior Matthew Kahley, junior Dom Debeljak, junior Jackson Carestio, freshman Lucci Cantini and rotational tackles senior Liam Logan and freshman Jack Turk.
By Scott Langston, Versailles Policy
This is Tigerball! Versailles returns to the state final for the second time in three years under coach Ryan Jones. Jones, in his fifth year at Versailles, has brought back a brand of football that dubbed the Tigers the “Team of the 90's.” Under legendary coach Al Hetrick the Tigers appeared in nine state champions games from 1988 to 2004, winning six state titles.
From 1993 to 1996, Versailles won three straight state titles and had a then state record 54-game winning streak. The winning streak ended in the 1996 state final. That record was later broken by Delphos St. Johns who won 57 straight games.
In 2021, the Tigers defeated Kirtland 20-16 in the division V state championship game for their first state title since 2003. They face Kirtland again in a rematch this year in the division VI state championship game.
The signature theme of Tigerball is a power running game and a stingy defense. Versailles scores an average of 33.4 points per game, while giving up just 8.7.
Playing in the Midwest Athletic Conference (MAC), the Tigers come into the game with a 13-2 record with road losses to perineal power houses Marion Local (14-13) and Coldwater (21-14). They played eight regular season games against teams that had at least one playoff win, six of those being MAC opponents. Their two non-conference wins included a 26-0 shutout of Celina, who reached the final four in division III.
The 2023 squad is made up of 80 players, the largest squad to date under Coach Jones. The Tigers are led by 18 seniors.
On offense senior quarterback Michael Osborne is a dual-threat player who can hurt teams with both is arm and his legs. He has rushed for 11 touchdowns and passed for 17 with eight interceptions. Senior running back Joel Gehret brings speed and power to the Tigers’ running game. He has 26 total touchdowns on the season with 23 on the ground. Junior Jace Watren is the Tigers’ leading receiver and has seven touchdown receptions on the year.
On defense the Tigers are led in tackles and sacks by senior lineman Levi Barga. Junior linebackers James Schmitmeyer and Ross Francis are also among the leaders in tackles, along with senior safety Michael Osborne. Senior AJ Griesdorn leads the Tigers in interceptions.
Maria Stein Marion Local
By Gary Rasberry, The (Celina) Daily Standard
Marion Local enters the Division VII state final having won 47 straight contests. Only three times this season has Marion Local scored fewer than 30 points and have been had two close calls: a comeback 29-26 win over Wapakoneta in Week One and a 14-13 win over Versailles in Week Six. Only three times have opposing teams scored more than eight points, the last coming in Week 10 against Coldwater (35-21).
The Flyers had to replace a number of starters from last season’s Division VI state championship team, but the new starters have used their experience getting playing time in the postseason with their team leading handily to get ready for moving up to the starting lineup.
In his 25th season as coach of the Flyers, Tim Goodwin earned up his 300th career win — beating Fort Recovery 49-0 on Sept. 29 — and is looking to guide the team to a 14th state title, extending his own record for most state titles.
This season has truly been a team effort. Four players have 500 or more yards rushing this season, including first-year quarterback Justin Knouff, who has passed for 1,992 yards with 25 touchdowns with to go with 654 yards rushing. Fullback Ethan Heitkamp has carried the ball just 87 times for 567 yards, but leads the team with 24 rushing touchdowns, an average of one touchdown every 3.6 carries.
The Flyer defense is allowing just 6.4 points per game and have allowed just seven points in the postseason (that coming against MAC rival Minster in the regional semifinals). Landon Arling, the Northwest District Co-Defensive Player of the Year, leads the team with 110 tackles, but 17 players have recorded at least one sack and 11 players have had at least interception.
By Alex Tichenor, Wooster Daily Record
Every team in Canton is in the midst of a "dream season," but even more so for Dalton. Of the 14 teams playing for a state championship this week, Dalton is one of the only two without a state title game appearance. After nearly breaking through in the playoffs several times over the past few years, it's all come together for the Bulldogs in 2023.
Much like its opponent Marion Local, Dalton hasn't sweat too much during its tournament run, winning every game by 20 points of more, including a 55-7 win over Caldwell in the state semifinals. The 'Dawgs lone loss came back in Week 1 at the hands of Division VI finalist Kirtland by a single score.
Dalton's success is fueled by an experienced, physical group up front, led by senior linemen Collin Jones and Grayson Lehman. Greyson Siders (1,875 rushing yards, 33 total TDs) is the type of back who can carry an offense, but Dalton options all over the field to complement him.
Sammy Tomlinson (934 rushing yards, 20 total TDs) is another dynamic backfield option and Dalton can get the ball into the hands of other playmakers like Cade Mullet, Coy Wenger and Kade Miller in a variety of ways. Senior QB Colin Pearson (1,705 yards, 18 TDs, 5 INTs) typically doesn't throw often, but makes the most of it when he does, throwing for 10.3 yards per attempt.
A smart, physical defense led by Jones up front, Alex Hess at the second level and Mullet in the secondary has limited 12 of its 14 opponents to two touchdowns or fewer.
Dalton is vying to become the third team from Wayne County to win a state title, joining Orrville (2018, 1998) and Norwayne (2011). 

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