NEW MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Friday night, the Springfield Tigers will venture into playoff territory that they have not enjoyed since the 2000 football season when they reached the regional finals. That year, they lost to eventual Division V state runner-up Bedford Chanel in Warren.
Friday night at Austintown’s Greenwood Falcon Stadium, the second-seeded Tigers face third-seeded and last year’s Division VI state champion, the Kirtland Hornets. The game is a regional semi-final match-up in region 21.
“I know for our players we are excited,” Tigers coach Sen Guerriero said. “I thought we had a great week of practice. We had great intensity, and I think our kids will be ready tomorrow night.”
Kirtland enters the contest with a 10-1 record, having only lost to league foe Cuyahoga Heights 21-0. Ironically, the Tigers also fell to Cuyahoga Heights back in week three of this season by a 45-21 score.
“I think our kids our excited for it (playing Kirtland). Obviously, we are having a good year and our confidence is high. To be playing a program like Tiger (Laverde) has built there is just great. It is a great challenge for our kids, and I don’t think we could be in a better situation right now,” Guerriero added.
Fittingly, the Tiger that Guerriero referred to is Kirtland’s head coach Tiger Laverde, who has led the Hornets to five state semi-finals and three state championships. The Hornets have a 28-8 playoff record, including wins over ITCL members Western Reserve, McDonald, Columbiana, South Range and Crestview. Only South Range knocked off the Hornets way back in 2007.
The Hornets have won with a formula of keeping it simple and overwhelming opponents with their speed, strength and perfecting their simplistic offense. Laverde admitted at one time he only uses about a dozen plays, but they run those plays to perfection.
“From what I have seen, they are the same thing (this year). They are going to run, I don’t even think it’s twelve plays I think it’s six, but they run them well. They play a ton of kids, they rotate them in and stay fresh and they really get after it. A great program like that, he has their kids excited and they are ready to go every week,” Guerriero explained.
The Tigers have also used a number of players contributing key roles to the success of the team. Last week, it was quarterback Brannon Brungard and Jake Ford. A couple weeks before that, it was running back Frankie Centofanti.
“This is probably the most unselfish team we have had here,” Guerrierio said. “I don’t think it really matters who makes the plays, it’s when they do. We talk about that. When you get your opportunity, you have to step it up and make the play. Right now, we have a good amount of play makers, and at times, I think it’s hard to defend us when we get rolling.”
Those play makers and talents have not gone unnoticed by Laverde.
“They are well balanced both passing and running the ball. We will need to take care of the football and not give up any big plays,” he said.
The Tigers also have received a bit of a favor by the OHSAA as they will be playing closer to home than Kirtland. Guerriero expects the Tigers to have a “home” crowd to watch the game in Austintown Friday night.
“I think our community here is fantastic, our school is wonderful. We had a great crowd here last week and it was exciting for our kids to play in that atmosphere, and I think it will be the same in Austintown tomorrow,” Guerriero added.