It left Byers Field in Parma without a win, but the Avon football team’s 33-man senior class still left its mark.
In their pursuit of the Division II state final appearance that has eluded their program since 2011, the Eagles came up short against a familiar roadblock in Akron Archbishop Hoban on Nov. 13, losing by a 28-14 score that felt closer.
It was the Eagles’ third state semifinal loss to Hoban in four years. But an important fact to remember is that, for the fourth consecutive year, they were among the last four Division II teams standing.
The 2021 senior class, which made its presence felt all over the field in a tight game, is the only one in school history to have been part of an Avon program that reached state playoffs in all four of its years. And after losing state semifinals to Hoban in 2017 (30-6) and 2018 (42-7), then falling to Massillon Washington in 2019 (35-10), it came the closest to achieving the desired outcome.
“Next year’s a long way away, but the blueprint’s there,” Eagles coach Mike Elder said after the game. “These seniors have established quite a legacy, and we’ll find out if next year’s team wants to live up to that and work as hard as they did.”
In four seasons, the Eagles have posted a combined 35-4 record and have won four consecutive Southwestern Conference championships. This season, amid a pandemic that made every week uncertain, they played a six-game regular season, garnered a No. 3 ranking in the state in Division II and weathered a condensed schedule back to the place they’ve become accustomed.
This senior class was built to answer challenges. A high level of trust had been built up as many of its members had been playing together as early as the second grade.
“This class works really hard in the off-season and we’re really close,” quarterback Niko Pappas said. “Our bond is great and we had a hell of a season.”
Against a Knights team that featured five NCAA Division I commits on its defense, the Eagles sputtered in the first half before coming on in the second, led by big plays from the seniors.
Sacked four times in the first half and with his running lanes cut off in the game’s first 24 minutes, Pappas rebounded in the second with 97 all-purpose yards and orchestrated touchdowns on back-to-back possessions to turn a 14-0 deficit into a 14-14 tie.
He threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to junior Tim Conwell to make it 14-7, then scored on a two-yard keeper with 9:34 left in the fourth quarter to stun the Hoban sideline, if only for a brief period. He ripped off runs of 28 and 22 yards on those drives to keep the drive moving.
Much like running backs Devon Hunter (11 carries 35 yards) and Desmond Kelly (1 carry, 3 yards) and wideout Michael Ptacek (5 catches, 43 yards), he also lined up on defense.
The seniors along the defense helped get stops against Hoban’s potent offense, keeping the score close even as the Knights–who average 40.6 points per game this season–went up 14-0 before halftime.
In eight drives, the Eagles held the Knights to three touchdowns while forcing four punts and a turnover on downs.
The Eagles wound up falling short of their goal of playing for a state championship, but the senior class certainly enjoyed the ride. Now, future classes will have to follow their lead.
“In a senior year like this, when it all comes together, that’s awesome,” linebacker Kaya Yonkers said. “It’s great and makes it all so special (to come this far).”
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