CANTON – The Versailles football team for the second game in a row held off a late score, recovered an onside kick and then ran out the clock to secure victory. Only this victory was for all the marbles as the Tigers beat #1 Kirtland 20-16 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in the 50th Annual Football State Championships to claim the 2021 OHSAA DV Football State Title.
It would be the 7th Football Championship for Versailles the last coming in 2003 and others in 1990, 93, 94, 95 and 98. They also snapped the Hornets 55 game win streak and bid for a 4th straight State Title.
Versailles was all business after receiving the game’s opening kickoff. They put together a nice time-consuming 10 play drive for 63 yards that chewed up just over 6 minutes off the clock.
It was senior quarterback Carson Bey going around the right-side showing patience to allow senior offensive lineman Brayden Keihl to spring a block on the edge, then Bey did the rest racing 15-yards for the touchdown.
Chase McEldowney’s extra point attempt was blocked but the Tigers led 6-0 and for the first-time all-season Kirtland trailed in a football game as Versailles served notice it was game on!
Kirtland didn’t look phased after taking the ensuing kick-off and chewed up big yards on the running of senior Gage Sullivan who looked unstoppable after 3 rushes for 45 yards.
The Tigers defense stiffened, and the Hornets faced a big 4th down on the 21-yard line prompting a 38-yard field goal attempt that kicker Johnny Raguz nailed to cut the lead to 6-3 at the 2:52 mark in the 1st quarter.
In typical Versailles fashion they responded with another 10-play clock eating drive, only they pounced in a non-typical way as Bey threw a ball to the boundary of the end zone just past the pylon to sophomore Michael Osborne.
Osborne leapt high with full extension of his body then fell away from the defender with the football just on his fingertips securing it before hitting the ground for an ESPN Top 10 catch that electrified the Hall of Fame Stadium crowd for a score.
“That was an unbelievable catch it was a play we put in this week for Mike for this game and for it to work out like that, just the way you drew it up is a great feeling. Kirtland is the type of team who likes to put their best defender on your best player, and they haven’t seen Mike as a receiver. We ran him on a Flag route, and he made a heck of play, it was a fantastic catch,” beamed Versailles coach Ryan Jones.
A Chase McEldowney extra point put the Tigers up 13-3 at 9:25 in the 2nd quarter.
Kirtland would turn the ball over on their next possession and it looked like the Tigers might have an opportunity to widen their lead … but the Hornets big playmaker Gauge Sullivan jumped the passing route to kill the chance and you could feel the Hornets sideline and fans breathe a sigh of relief as the half ended with Versailles leading 13-3.
Kirtland received the ball to start the 3rd frame, but Versailles defense forced a 55-yard punt going into the end-zone allowing them to take over on the 20-yard line.
“With our style of offense, we try to run the ball a lot with the lead to drain clock and limit possessions, we don’t want to throw too much because we want the clock to run.” Jones commented.
Championship football is about controlling the line of scrimmage and keeping the other team’s offense off the field and Versailles executed an 80-yard 10 play drive consuming 7:22 off the clock using the formula Jones mentioned.
A couple of big plays in the drive were completions to Eli & Noah McEldowney the latter being a big 28-yard completion with Noah leaping high into the air for another amazing acrobatic catch for the Tigers.
But eight of the plays were runs with the final one from Jack Osborne on a 1-yard plunge, add the extra point and Versailles led 20-3 at 3:22 in the 3rd quarter.
If it was any other team you might think the game was over at this point … but this wasn’t any other team and Kirtland was about to pull out all the stops.
It was Gauge Sullivan again making a play, just as it appeared the Tigers had him surrounded and locked up on a run to the boundary, just as Houdini did back in the days of vaudeville, Sullivan escaped and skirted up the sidelines for a 29-yard score and now the Hornets were buzzing trailing 20-10 with 9:03 left in the game.
Now all Versailles needed was another one of their long scoring drives to salt the game away.
“You have to hand it to Kirtland their coaches and players did a good job of limiting our style of attack later in the game and found a way to get the ball back a few times,” Jones said.
With time working against them Kirtland took a shot down field for 40-yard completion down to the 4-yard line and two plays later Mason Rus got the 4-yard score to make the game 20-16.
With the extra point Kirtland could make a field goal to tie the game but 6’ 7” junior Connor Stonebraker used his entire frame to deny the all-important attempt making it that much harder for the Hornets to comeback.
Now Versailles would only need to recover the ensuing onside kick. Junior Titus Gehret was up to the job falling on the ball curling around it and with just 30 seconds left to play the Tigers would only need to take a snap to run out the clock to become State Champions.
After the snap the celebration began with big smiles, hugs and even some tears shed by coaches and players alike culminated a long season that started in June and ended in Canton with the Tigers reaching the pinnacle.
Versailles coach Ryan Jones talked about what it took for his team to reach this moment.
“What a tremendous accomplishment for our players, they set their mind to do this and found out the price for success was very high and they were willing to pay for that,” Jones stated.
“They started in June and approached everyday with the same attitude to get better. As a coaching staff and a team, we never set a goal to win a state championship we never talked about it. Our goal was to teach how we approach things to get better every day one rep at a time. Our goal was to execute our system and we thought it would bring us success and that’s a testament to all these players who were willing to do that,” Jones added.
The senior class as freshman was on a team that was 2-8, then coach Jones arrived when they were sophomores. He would go 3-7 that year and 5-3 their junior year.
“When I came in these kids were sophomores and they could have said who’s this little guy coming in here from Troy Christian, maybe we don’t want to be a part of this, but they embraced me and bought into the program giving every ounce of effort they had. They put the work into it; on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom. They are tremendous young men who have made me a better man and coach for just being around them,” Jones praised.
“I’m so happy for this team and all our seniors for what they have accomplished. I know they are going to be successful no matter what they do because they have the right attitude and willing to pay the price for success,” Jones concluded.
18 Seniors have now become an Historic part of Tigerball: Noah McEldowney, Eli McEldowney, Carson Bey, Chase McEldowney, Landon Henry, Owen Francis, Jacob Carman, Cameron Frederick, Gabe Thompson, Jack Osborne, Jacob Treon, Carter Luthman, Ryan Knapke, Caleb Rush, Brayden Keihl, Taran Tyo, Caleb Kaiser and Trey Mills as they finish their careers winning their last game as “State Champions”.