After his interception with 1:09 left in regulation helped secure a second consecutive comeback victory, Avon junior Jackson Blodgett tried to describe the emotional ebb and flow his Eagles football team has experienced of late.
“It’s been really fun (the past two weeks),” he said. “Really, not that fun. But it’s fun at the end. During the game, it’s not too fun, but the outcome is worth it.”
A week after closing a 17-point deficit to beat Avon Lake in double overtime, the Eagles found themselves down again in the fourth quarter–this time by four points–late last Friday at Olmsted Falls. And once again, they made clutch plays to come out on top, 35-32.
Senior running Back Devon Hunter capped a big night with an 18-yard touchdown catch, and Blodgett’s interception of Bulldogs quarterback Charlie Ciolek on the first play of the ensuing drive helped make for the desired outcome.
Opening the abbreviated 2020 season on the road with, arguably, their two toughest opponents in the Southwestern Conference, the Eagles (2-0, 2-0 SWC) have discovered a deep well of resolve early that they hope will serve them well later. The Division II playoffs will start in mid-October this year.
“You’ve got to be able to win close games,” Eagles coach Mike Elder said. “We’ve been on some long playoff runs before, and we’ve been in close games like this. Our coaches are battle-tested and out kids are battle-tested and you certainly have to have experiences to learn how to close out a game.”
The Bulldogs (1-1, 1-1 SWC) gave the Eagles all they could handle, gaining 395 yards while forcing a pair of turnovers on defense. Despite throwing the crucial interception, Ciolek finished 13-for-22 with 217 yards passing, and sophomore Rocco Conti totaled 137 yards of offense–116 receiving.
With 4:43 remaining, senior Andrew Parkowski (12 carries, 49 yards) used his six-foot, 225-pound frame to bull his way two yards into the end zone to give the Bulldogs a 32-28 lead, the game’s fifth lead change.
The sixth lead change came with 1:15 left when the Eagles capped a 10-play scoring drive. On 3rd-and-5 from the Bulldog 18, senior quarterback Niko Pappas dumped a screen pass to Hunter on his left side, and Hunter made several defenders miss on a sprint to the end zone. After Blodgett’s interception, the Eagles were able to drain the remaining clock.
“(The pass to Hunter) was crazy,” Pappas said. “I knew I was going to go with him, that’s a fast dude out of the backfield. He’s hard to guard and he was open. He did the rest.”
In addition to his go-ahead reception, Hunter finished with 211 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Pappas completed 14 of 22 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns, including a 55-yard strike to Mike Matlak in the first quarter and a 9-yard toss to Michael Ptacek with 8:08 left in the fourth that briefly put the team up 28-25.
Kam Erskine, who caught the game-winning pass against Avon Lake, led the team with seven catches for 68 yards.
“Every time we go out there, down, up, whatever the score is, we’ve got to stick to our basics and do what we’ve got to do,” Pappas said. “We stuck to it at the end and we got it done.”
The Bulldogs took an early 8-0 lead on Ciolek’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Cooney, followed by Parkowski’s successful two-point conversion run. After Matlak’s touchdown pulled the Eagles to within one at 8-7, Ciolek’s rushing score put his team ahead 15-7..
Hunter’s 5-yard scoring run made it 15-14, and was followed by a Drew Kanaba field goal to increase the Bulldog lead to four in the second quarter. Hunter broke off a 65-yard touchdown run to give the Eagles a 21-18 lead at halftime.
Parkowski’s 1-yard score with 8:25 to go in the third put the Bulldogs ahead 25-21, but they were unable to build on the slim lead. On their next possession, they turned the ball over on downs at the Eagle 29, then after a goal line stand at the end of the third quarter gave them a rush of momentum, Ciolek was stripped in the backfield by Trevor Norman near midfield, who also recovered the fumble and set up the Eagles’ for an eventual scoring drive.
“I thought the effort was awesome,” Bulldogs coach Tom DeLuca said of his team’s performance, despite the outcome. “We told the guys afterwards that we’re proud of them. They played like we thought they could play, and like they’re going to continue to play.”
The Eagles and their highwire act will host North Ridgeville (0-2) this Friday at 7 p.m., while the Bulldogs will travel to North Olmsted (1-0).
“I thought the effort was awesome,” Bulldogs coach Tom DeLuca said. “We told the guys afterwards that we’re proud of them. They played like we thought they could play, and like they’re going to continue to play.”
Other Sept. 4 scores
North Olmsted 28, North Ridgeville 0
Avon Lake 63, Berea-Midpark 14
Amherst 43, Midview 21
Brookside 28, Wellington 26
Lutheran West 51, Westlake 20
Padua 41, Lakewood 7
Sept. 5 score
Akron Hoban 35, St. Edward 0
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