OHSAA state football finals: Focusing on themselves helped Versailles Tigers turn Kirtland's winning streak into '55 and 1'

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Michael Osborne, 17, of Versailles hauls in a touchdown pass while being defended by Will Sayle, 12, of Kirtland  during their DV state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
Michael Osborne, 17, of Versailles hauls in a touchdown pass while being defended by Will Sayle, 12, of Kirtland during their DV state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

CANTON — A win streak stretching almost four full years barely had begun dissipating into the ether like the contrails of a jet plane. Yet, Kirtland coach Tiger Laverde already tried to provide context to what ended on the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium turf on Saturday night.

"These kids go out every day and do the best they can year around," Laverde said after his team's 55-game win streak came to an end in a 20-16 Division V state championship loss to Versailles. "Results come. The streak, that's not the goal. The goal is to have fun every day with these kids and they work as hard as they do and we compete as hard as we can. I think we competed right to the end. It didn't happen for us today. That's a good football team and they deserved to win the game."

For 55 consecutive games, the Hornets were that good football team. And, at least in the eyes of the scoreboard, they deserved to win the games.

However, on Saturday night, there was another team that deserved to win the game. And that team deactivated what had been the nation's longest active win streak.

Carson Bey of Versailles gets upended by Ramon Lescano of Kirtland during their DV state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
Carson Bey of Versailles gets upended by Ramon Lescano of Kirtland during their DV state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

It was a team that, nearly three decades earlier, walked almost step for step in Kirtland's shoes. At one time, from 1993 to 1996, the Tigers were the team with the streak that seemed to be invincible.

Their 54-game win streak, at one time the longest in Ohio history, now has been passed by two teams. The second of those, Kirtland, did it just a week ago in a state semifinal victory over Ottawa-Glandorf.

It didn't go over well in the town that got passed over.

"That's exactly what we had in mind all week," said Versailles quarterback Carson Bey, who delivered body blows to the Hornets with his arm (129 passing yards, TD), legs (86 yards, TD) and hands (one amazing interception). "We knew they beat our record, that they had 55 straight. There were signs all over town, '55 and 1.' We knew we could make it happen."

Versailles quarterback Carson Bey gets set to throw vs. Kirtland in the Division V state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
Versailles quarterback Carson Bey gets set to throw vs. Kirtland in the Division V state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

The knowledge that the Tigers could end Kirtland's streak came from a similar place from where the streak itself began. It's a place that doesn't designate a final destination.

Why? Because there is no destination unattainable for a team when it starts from this place.

"We never once talked about winning a state championship, at all," Versailles coach Ryan Jones said. "We never once set that as a goal. Our goal is to focus on our system and how we do things, and we focus on how we do things and we focus on that every day. It's our approach that gets things done."

Using that approach, the Tigers treated Kirtland the same way they treated Celina, their first opponent of the season back on Aug. 20. It's an approach that doesn't care about situation as much as preparation — which has long been called the key to success.

For Versailles, it's what unlocked a four-quarter performance in Canton that allowed it to do something it hadn't accomplished as a program since 2003 — win a state title.

To do that, however, required individuals to go beyond their comfort zones. For Michael Osborne, that may have been playing receiver, a position he hadn't seen much action at prior to Saturday's game.

Michael Osborne, 17, of Versailles recovers a fumble  during their DV state championship game against Kirtland at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
Michael Osborne, 17, of Versailles recovers a fumble during their DV state championship game against Kirtland at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

However, in the second quarter, it was Osborne's sensational grab in the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 13-3 lead. Three plays later, he was making yet another great grab, this time on defense when he recovered a fumble near midfield to turn away another Hornet drive.

"Mike made a heck of a catch," Jones said. "That's a play we put in this week. Mike hasn't really played receiver really all year. We put it in for him, and he was able to make an incredible play and Carson put it there."

Just like Bey put Versailles in position from the start to knock Kirtland on its heels. Bey capped the game's first drive with a 15-yard TD run to give the Tigers a 6-0 lead they never gave away.

It was the first time the Hornets had trailed since the third quarter of a 2019 first-round playoff game against Sandy Valley. Since then, more than 1,413 minutes had passed without them trailing.

Yet, once Kirtland was trailing, that's when the Tigers knew they could pounce. That's when they went from knowing they could win the game to knowing they would win the game.

"Us putting that first points up on the board," Bey said. "I knew from there we had it locked in. Obviously, there were some bumps in the road, but we had them locked in. We had them where we wanted them the whole game."

A game that left one team's streak in the past. A game that left the other team holding the state championship trophy.

Reach Chris at chris.easterling@indeonline.com.

On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE

This article originally appeared on The Independent: Versailles football becomes OHSAA state champions with simple focus