As Avon polished off a 10-0 regular season, an outright West Shore Conference championship and the No. 1 seed in the Division II, Region 6 playoffs, you can point to many reasons why.
A top-notch defense, led by linebacker Patrick Furnas and defensive linemen Greg Harrison and Bryan Cox, immediately comes to mind, along with a solid offense led by quarterbacks Cody Schroeder and Justin O’Rourke.
However, one aspect that is constantly overlooked is the Eagles’ offensive line, or, as they’re known around the locker room, the “Misfits.”
“Our linemen have been heavily criticized,” Avon coach Mike Elder said. “Coach (Bill) Fishleigh is our line coach, and then I help him with the offensive line-that’s my position, and I was a former offensive lineman. They’re a group of guys that are very unselfish. You never talk about linemen unless they do something wrong, whether they held or had a bad block. But, they’re the heart and soul of our offense.
“If they’re not doing their job, these skill kids can’t make plays. For us to play well in the playoffs, they’re going to have to play well. (Friday night in our 50-14 win over Bay), I thought they took a step in the right direction, and I thought our running backs ran a lot harder. All in all, I’m very proud of those guys up front, and they deserve a lot of credit for us being 10-0, even though they’re the ones pointed at as the ‘weak spot’ of our team. I just don’t see it that way.”
The “Misfit” moniker came about because the defense got their first pick of the linemen. With only one-way starters on Avon’s team, the unpicked ones became the offensive front.
“I was a lineman who only played offense in high school,” Elder said. “I was mad at them one day in practice and said, ‘You guys are a bunch of misfits. These defensive coaches don’t even like you. They won’t even let you play defense.’ So, they got a chip on their shoulders.
“Next thing you know, the linemen all have T-shirts calling themselves the ‘Misfits,’ saying, ‘We’re all we got.’ They’ve kind of adopted this ‘us vs. the world’ mentality, and it serves us well That’s kind of how offensive linemen have to play.”
The Avon offensive linemen include seniors Alex Isaac (6-0, 250), Tyler Conn (5-10, 200) and Corey Simkovich (5-9, 180), and juniors Connor Bowen (6-3, 190), Ryan Byrne (6-2, 315) and Will Miller (5-11, 200).
“All of those guys play offense only, so it’s nice to have two platooned offensive and defensive linemen,” Elder said. “If you look at them, they’re all shapes and sizes, too, so that fits into the ‘Misfits’ thing. But, I love those guys and I’m very close to all of them. They did a great job.”
Byrne admitted that they’ve gotten better as the season has gone on.
“We’ve had some trouble spots, especially when we ran the ball in the past,” he said. “However, we ran the ball really well (Friday) against Bay. We’re working on it, and we’re getting better.”
Byrne said it was easy for him and his linemen to embrace being the “Misfits.”
“We don’t go over with the defensive linemen, so we only have one coach,” he said. “We just kind of got the name ‘Misfits’ because we’re kind of out there on our own. It’s fun. We like it.”
Against Bay, the ‘Misfits’ paved the way for running backs Adam Horrocks (10 carries, 63 yards) and Ross Douglas (9 carries, 42 yards and a touchdown) to pick up nice chunks of yardage. As a team, the Eagles gained 191 yards rushing on 37 carries-a 5.2-yard average.
“The reality of it is, we’re trying to prepare for something beyond Week 10,” Elder said. “To win in the playoffs, you’re going to have to play great defense, be able to run the football effectively and sprinkle in the pass. We’ve got some things we’ve been working on that we haven’t been necessarily been showing a lot of. But, we feel like we can run the ball, and we feel like we’re going to need to in order to win and advance in the playoffs.
“That was proven to me two years ago with a pretty good football team that we needed to do that. So, if we can be multi-dimensional, that’s a great place to be for the playoffs.”
Two years ago, Avon went 10-0, had the No. 1-seed in Division III, Region 10, and advanced all the way to the regional finals in the postseason. However, the Eagles lost to Sunbury Big Walnut, 24-15.
Avon will begin its postseason journey Friday night at Avon Stadium, hosting No. 8-seeded Sandusky. The Blue Streaks, reaching the postseason for the first time in 20 years, went 6-4. They lost their season finale to archrival Fremont Ross, 21-7, but a 39-22 Week 1 win over the top seeded team in Division IV, Region 14 – Bellville Clear Fork – is what propelled them into the playoffs.
On an unseasonably chilly night Friday, the Eagles were able to effectively mix the run with the pass. They gained 378 yards of total offense and had a 43-0 lead at halftime.
Avon scored on its first three offensive possessions, six of its seven possessions of the first half, and seven of its 10 total offensive possessions of the game. Elder only played his starters for three quarters, turning matters over to the JV team for the final quarter.
“To be honest with you, I’m so proud of our players and our coaches,” Elder said. “When you win championships, it doesn’t happen by accident. I’ve got a coaching staff that puts in a tremendous amount of time away from their families, and they do the right things. They’re great role models for these kids, and the kids follow that.
“They got up at 6:30 in the morning and worked out in the summer and did all the right things. When you go 10-0 and put in the work, it feels really good. This team put in the work and they deserve this. I’m really proud of them.”