Perusek guides Avon to 13-12 win over Avon Lake in season opener
Avon Eagles senior running back Nick Perusek wasted no time filling in for the graduated Mark Steinmetz.
In Friday’s season-opener against archrival Avon Lake, Perusek accounted for both of the Eagles scores as Avon came away with a 13-12 victory over the Shoremen.
On Avon’s first drive, Perusek and new quarterback Danny Zeh faced a fourth-and-three from Avon Lake’s 23. Zeh swung a screen pass out to Perusek who shook off multiple Shoremen tacklers and scored to put the Eagles up 7-0.
Defense prevailed the rest of the first half as five straight punts ensued between both teams. With less than five minutes left in the first half, the Eagles had another scoring opportunity. Two consecutive rushes by Perusek were stuffed at the one and when Zeh attempted to pass on third down, he was intercepted by Avon Lake’s Kai Kuwalu.
The Shoremen capitalized on that momentum and drove 80 yards in less than three minutes to score on a Gage Duesler four-yard run. The junior tailback finished with 46 yards on 14 carries with the one touchdown.
On the extra point, an Avon defensive lineman got his hand on the ball to keep the Eagles up 7-6 going into halftime.
“When you invest so much, you never quit in those tough moments,” Avon coach Mike Elder said. “That blocked extra point was big in this one, no question about it. I’m proud of our kids and how they fight and keep playing. You might beat us, but we’ll never stop playing and that’s all I can ask for.”
To start the second half, defense set the tone again as the teams traded three consecutive punts before do-it-all-man Harry Hebert kicked a 31-yard field goal to build the Shoremen to 9-7. Hebert started the game at quarterback, initially intending to share duties with junior Michael Corbo, but began cramping up midway through the game, forcing Corbo to finish out the second half.
“Both guys played pretty well – at times,” Avon Lake head coach Matt Kostelnik said. “I don’t think we can say we’re going to go one way or the other. It was by design. Harry was going to take the first two, Corbo was going to take the third and then we were just going to go.”
On Avon’s next drive, senior defensive end Nick Marsh recorded his second drive-ending sack on third-and-nine, forcing another Eagle punt. Hebert was called on again as, this time, he split the uprights from 34 yards to give Avon Lake a 12-7 lead with nine minutes left to play.
A lengthy 13-play, four-minute drive for the Eagles, led by Perusek’s six-carries for 60 yards and a touchdown put Avon back in front. Elder optioned for a two-point conversion pass that failed, but his team still led 13-12 with less than five minutes to play.
“(Avon Lake’s) defense, they were doing a really good job of stopping the run for a lot of the game,” Perusek said. “Once we started passing really well, it opened up the run and that’s what did it for us.”
Avon Lake got its next drive down to a third-and-three attempt, but a false start pushed it back five yards to its own 22. Back-to-back incompletions gave Avon the ball back in great field position.
Three consecutive runs gave the Eagles the game-sealing first down they needed with Zeh kneeling out the clock as the Avon bench poured onto the field in celebration.
“Honestly, they’ve got a great crop of kids over there and we know that,” Elder said. “We saw that coming through in seventh, eighth and ninth grade and that junior class of theirs is really special. I knew going into last year that we were going to have our hands full with these guys for a few years. We might see those guys again, there’s no question.”
BACK IT UP
Penalties plagued the Shoremen throughout the game. In total, Avon Lake had 14 for 114 yards. In one drive alone in the second quarter, the offense lost 35 yards on three penalties after starting on its own 40.
“Any team makes their biggest jump from week one to week two. … what’s that going to be for us?” Kostelnik said. “Three juniors and two sophomores on the offensive line. A play here, a play there, a missed play; we can erase those penalties in a 13-12 game but we can’t beat ourselves.”
Avon had its own lengthy penalties but was much more disciplined in general. The Eagles were called for five for 50 yards.
Despite starting the game as the backup quarterback, Corbo’s second-half performance could make Kostelnik’s decision much harder about who to start in week two. Corbo went just 1-of-2 for four yards in the first half while Hebert dominated the air attack, going 4-6 for 69 yards.
When Corbo took over the offense in the third quarter, he shined. Though he completed just two of his seven passes for 28 yards, the junior wasn’t afraid to run when he had to. Outside of a six-yard loss on a sack, Corbo gained positive yardage every play he ran. He finished with six carries for 62 yards.
“Harry had that weird cramp at that one point and Corbo got hot running the ball a little bit,” Kostelnik said. “I’d like to see our running back run the ball a little bit more than our quarterbacks. We’re not an empty team, but we went empty more tonight than I would like to.”
For Avon, Zeh shined in his first game leading the Eagles. The senior finished with 13 completions in 23 attempts for 133 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
“Danny was under duress and pressure and I don’t know that we always put him in the best situations in this game but for the most part, he made one bad decision down there on the goal line,” Elder said. “He’s a first-year starter in a pretty big atmosphere so he’ll grow up and get better but he was good enough to win tonight and I’m proud of him.”
Neither teams gets a breather in their week two games as Avon travels to Lorain to play the Titans while Avon Lake heads to a neutral site at Findlay High School to play Clinton Massie.
Both teams still feel like there was enough good to come out of this heated rivalry matchup to see improvements on Friday.
“Hats off to Avon and coach Elder and their whole team,” Kostelnik said. “They’re a hell of a squad. They’re tough. And we played tough tonight and we were a point short.”
“We’re getting ready to play Lorain,” Elder said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen their athletes but, holy cow, man. It’s going to be a physical football game and we’ve got our hands full. It doesn’t get any harder than what we have to go through these first two weeks. It’s going to be a great game.”
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