Fort Frye faces powerhouse Kirtland in state semis | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo by Kayla Adkins
Fort Frye’s Keegan Strode (59), Caleb Riggs (66), Graham Baker (56) and Zaiden Huck (7) celebrate last week’s regional final victory over Bellaire in Zanesville, Ohio.

BEVERLY — Fort Frye is one of the final four teams standing.

The Cadets claimed the Division VI, Region 23 championship last week and now will face Kirtland in the state semifinals at 7 p.m. Saturday at South Range High School in Canfield, Ohio. The winner will play for the state championship the following week.

“They’ve all worked really, really hard to get here,” Fort Frye head coach Eric Huck said of his team. “We had a brutal schedule. For our guys to be standing here is quite an accomplishment.”

Fort Frye is 13-1 this season and winners of eight straight games, including last week’s 35-28 come-from-behind win versus Bellaire. Owen Brown and Austin Powell rushed for two touchdowns apiece in the second half of that game. Defensively, Zaiden Huck had 14 tackles and Caleb Riggs had a pair of sacks.

“Our guys really fought hard,” coach Huck said. “There was no quit in them. We made little adjustments at halftime, but it was mostly about playing our game and getting that right mentality.”

The Cadets have gotten this far on their ability to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, which again will be key against a Hornets squad that will try to run the ball right down your throat.

“They want to run the ball,” Huck said. “We have to control the line of scrimmage and stop their run game. We have to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense. That’s what this game is about.”

Kirtland (14-0) did not throw a pass in its 30-0 regional final win over Mogadore, though Huck did say Hornets “are capable of throwing.”

Tommy Gogolin led Kirtland with 193 yards on 15 carries last week. Rocco Alfieri and Jake LaVerde are other guys who can make plays as the Hornets ran for 289 yards on 35 rushes as a team in the regional final.

Defensively, Kirtland pitched back-to-back shutouts the last two weeks and hasn’t allowed more than eight points in a game since Sept. 30. The Hornets limited Mogadore to exactly 100 total yards.

“They’re very good all over the field on defense,” Huck said.

Up front, Huck feels Fort Frye has as good of a group as anybody in the state, led by guys like Riggs, Graham Baker, Kaleb Bailey, Carter Brooker, Stone Dixon, Bishop Dowler and Morgan Smith.

Huck said in the past Kirtland has had very big linemen up front, and though they’re not as big this year, “they play very hard and are very fundamentally sound,” he said. “They’re very well coached.”

The Hornets are coached by Tiger LaVerde, whose program is playing in the state semifinals for the 11th time. Kirtland has won six state titles since 2011 and has been to the state final in every year during that span except for 2016.

Fort Frye is making its third trip to the Final Four. The Cadets lost to Kirtland in the 2018 semifinals by a score of 35-18. The Hornets beat Marion Local a week later in the state championship game.

In 2020, the Cadets lost to Springfield 16-13 in the state semis. They’re looking to advance to the state finals for the first time in program history.

“There’s a different feel to it getting this far,” Huck said. “We try to make it as normal as possible and keep the routines the same, but it definitely feels different.”

Jordan Holland can be reached at [email protected].

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