CUYAHOGA HEIGHTS, Ohio - Both coaches agree, Friday night's Chagrin Valley Conference clash at Ralph P. Adams Stadium should be another classic. This clash features the defending state Division V champion Kirtland Hornets against the host Cuyahoga Heights Redskins.
Although the Hornets have won five of the last six meetings between the two teams, the games have been hard fought and competitive.
"We can't turn the ball over and have to keep their receivers in front of us," Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde said. "We have to play better than we did last year. We were very fortunate to win the game."
The Hornets prevailed, 24-12, last season dispite being outgained in total yardage by the Redskins.
"It's fun to play them and a challenge ," LaVerde said. "It's a chess match. We're looking forward to the game. Cuyahoga Heights always plays us well. They're well coached."
LaVerde is in his seventh season at Kirtland with a record of 66-11.
"Kirtland has a great program," Cuyahoga Heights coach Al Martin said. "They're extremely well coached on both sides of the ball. Their kids are really strong and talented. They work hard during the off season. Every time we play them it's a battle."
This is Martin's 16th season at Cuyahoga Heights. His overall record is 152-31 with 14 playoff appearances. Both teams enter this week's contest with 4-0 records.
The Hornets have more experienced veteran players. Their offensive line outweighs the Redskins defensive front by an average of 50 pounds, 225-175.
The Redskins have 18 of 22 starting positions filled by first-year starters.
"This is the most we've ever had for our program," Martin said. "It been a big adjustment for our players from the JV to varsity level. We have lot of two-way fist-time starters. We're getting better each week. We're still a work in progress. We're not where we need to be yet."
Cuyahoga Heights offensive starters are senior Jason Kleppel (6-1, 186) at tight end, senior Nick Orlowski (5-6, 174) at right tackle, junior Zac Lowther (6-1, 202) at right guard, senior Pete Ziganti (5-9, 215) at center, sophomore Chase Kiriazis (6-0, 203) at left guard and senior Nate Bryk 5-11, 198) at left tackle. Split ends are senior Tim Surman (6-0, 171) and junior Tyler Gallo 5-7, 151). Slotbacks are juniors Trent Gallo (5-7, 146) and Jack Alpert (6-0, 155). Jordan Martin, a 6-foot, 171-pound junior, is the quarterback. He is the son of coach Martin. Senior Joe Menkhaus (5-8, 161) is the place kicker. Fullbacks are senior Shane McNeilly (5-10. 184) and sophomore Grayson Thacker (5-9, 170).
Kleppel, Bryk and Surman are returning starters. "We're still a triple-option team but we're in more spread formations than in the past," Martin said. "We're throwing the ball a little more this year."
The Redskins have four new starters on the offensive line and are a little undersized.
"We've struggled with our run blocking but our pass blocking has been good," Martin said.
Cuyahoga Heights defensive starters are senior Ricky Rospierski (5-10, 160) and Surman at outside linebackers. McNeilly and Bryk are the tackles. Senior Andrew Schmalz (5-7, 166) is the nose guard. Inside linebackers are Kleppel and Orlowski. Alpert and Tyler Gallo are the cornerbacks. Safeties are Trent Gallo and Martin.
"We have eight two-way starters and nine first-time starters on defense," Martin said. "We've done well so far. We've given up yardage but made big plays. We've gotten the opposition to turn the ball over. Our kids fly around and make plays."
The defense will have to make numerous big plays if the Redskins hope to defeat Kirtland. The Hornets continue to buzz past opponents. They have won 19-straight games.
"We're just trying to grow every day," LaVerde said. "Last year we were not very good in games 1-5 but very good in games 11-15. I think we're a better football team at this point than we were last year. We did lose some people but I'm extremely pleased with the kids who've stepped in. I'm happy with they've done so far."
Offensive starters are tight ends sophomore Matthew Finkler (6-3, 205) and senior Evan Brettrager (6-1, 210), sophomore Dylan Diemer (6-0, 200) at left guard, senior Bob Matthews (6-2, 240) at left tackle, senior Mike Cymbal (6-0, 220) at center, senior Ben Nye (6-1, 230) at right guard and senior Logan Georskey (6-1, 240) at right tackle.
Running backs are senior Damon Washington (6-0, 180) and junior Sam Kurkua (5-8, 185).
"Damon Washington is a special player," LaVerde said. "His strength makes him special. He's hard to bring down and is a strong runner."
"He (Washington) is a very stong kid," Martin said. "He packs a punch when he hits you. He is a special player who makes plays on both sides of the ball."
Senior Scott Eilerman (6-2,
190) is Kirtland's quarterback. The place is Kyle Adams.
"Scott Eilerman has done a tremendous job of running the show," LaVerde added. "He has an excellent arm. Scott is a lot stronger than he looks and an intelligent player. He has a 4.2 g.p.a."
Defensive starters are junior Canon Schroeder and Brettrage at tackles, junior Brad Blankenship (5-6, 180)at nose tackle, Matthews at end, junior Erik Guhde (5-11, 200) and Finkler at linebackers, Kurkura at strong safety and, senior Josh Iammarino (5-9, 170)at weak side safety.
Cornerbacks are Washington and junior Anthony Veneri (5-10, 170). Junior Ryan Loncar (5-11, 185) is the free safety. Senior Kyle Adams is the punter.
Both teams have playoff aspirations and there will be plenty of computer points on the line for the winner. Fans can expect an exciting evening of football between two of the top small school programs in the state.