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McDonald set to battle powerful Kirtland team

November 8, 2013
By MATT WAGNER - Tribune Chronicle (mwagner@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

Long considered the cream of the crop in terms of small-school football in Trumbull County, the McDonald Blue Devils will see an almost mirror image of their program when they play Kirtland tonight in a Division VI, Region 19 playoff game.

McDonald has qualified for the playoffs 14 times in its history, which includes two state runner-up trophies in 1989 and 1994, while the Hornets are making their 10th playoff appearance. The Hornets have collected one state title and one state runners-up trophy in their playoff history.

"They have rich history and so do we," senior tackle Carson Williams said. "Our history and their history are going to collide. It'll be a big game for both of us."

Kirtland's tradition has grown mostly in recent years, as the Hornets (10-0) have made the playoffs four consecutive seasons and seven of the last eight years. Both their state championship and state runner-up finishes occurred in 2011 and 2012, respectively, when the Hornets were in Division V. Kirtland went on a 29-game winning streak over those two seasons before losing in the 2012 state title game to Coldwater.

"They got that desire to win," McDonald coach Dan Williams said. "They've won so many years in a row now, I think the next group that comes up just wants to keep pace with the groups ahead of them. Success breeds success, and I think that's important in their program right now."

McDonald (7-3), meanwhile, hasn't played beyond Week 10 since 2010, when this year's seniors were just freshmen.

Senior running back Matt Morrell said he remembers the difference between the playoffs and the regular season, as the Blue Devils advanced to the regional final that year.

"The atmosphere, it's a whole other thing," Morrell said. "It doesn't compare anything to the regular season. It's greater than the regular season."

If the Blue Devils want any chance of making it past the first round this season, they will need to slow down Kirtland's potent offense that has terrorized all 10 of the Hornets' opponents so far.

Kirtland has scored 83 total touchdowns this season and has averaged 58 points per game with an average margin of victory at 49.7 points. They have a potent running attack that has gashed defenses for 3,401 yards, led by senior 1,000-yard rusher Sam Kukura, who averages more than 13.5 yards per attempt and scored 20 touchdowns on the ground. Junior Adam Hess has added 848 yards and 12 touchdowns.

"We've got to play great defense," Dan Williams said. "They've got three good running backs and a good running quarterback, so we have to be able to tackle real well. That's going to be important for us winning this football game."

Although the Blue Devils go into tonight's contest as the underdogs against the first-ranked team in the final state AP poll, they remain upbeat about their chances. Considering the Kirtland starters haven't played much at all in the fourth quarter all season, finding a way to keep it close going into the final quarter could give McDonald the upperhand.

"It comes down every Friday night to who outhits who, I think," Dan Williams said. "We have to really get after them, and we have to be physical with them. We always preach to our kids, 'If you outhit your opponent, you're going to win more than you lose.' That's our goal this week."