For the first 13 games this season, nothing could stop the Avon Eagles football team.
Not its Southwestern Conference foes – Avon went a perfect 9-0 in the conference.
Not their bitter rival Avon Lake - the Eagles beat the Shoremen twice; once in the season-opener and once in the regional championship.
And not even injuries to key players and positions throughout the year - starting running back Nick Perusek was lost for the year midway through the season, starting quarterback Danny Zeh and backup quarterback Niko Pappas were lost during the playoffs and starting left tackle Joe Svec missed several games this season. In all, Avon lost 22 players this season, with 13 facing season-ending injuries.
So even though the Eagles undefeated season came to an end Friday in a 35-10 loss to the Massillon Washington Tigers in the Division II state semifinal, this was still a season to be proud of.
Throughout the season, Avon coach Mike Elder reiterated that few people expected his team to win while dealing with these injuries. While that narrative might have been a bit of hyperbole to keep his team motivated based on the talent Avon had throughout its roster this year, what the Eagles did this was certainly a testament to that depth. Few other teams in the conference or the area would be able to overcome those major losses.
After Perusek went down, junior Devon Hunter and senior Joey Lance filled in that role the remainder of the season. The Eagles didn’t miss a beat.
Lance finished the season with 608 rushing yards and five touchdowns, along with over 500 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns through the air. Hunter, the new lead back, finished the season with 1,132 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns.
After Zeh went down against Wooster on Nov. 8, Pappas came in and led the Eagles to a 49-28 win over Benedictine. Against Avon Lake on Nov. 22, third-string quarterback Chase Myers played a clean game against the Shoremen and threw just three passes against the Tigers Friday night.
Avon’s season-opening win over Avon Lake was a 13-12 nailbiter. From that point on, the Eagles outscored their opponents 503-188 and had two shutouts against Midview (56-0) and Westlake (62-0). The second time the Eagles and Shoremen met, Avon came away with a 20-3 playoff win.
This season also marked the third-consecutive season that Avon made the state final four. While none of those runs resulted in a state championship trip, the Eagles’ ability to have that much sustainted success is a testament to not only their resilience in the face of injuries this season, but the culture and coaching that Elder has established in recent years.
Elder and the Eagles are the last people to focus on the “what-ifs” of this season. They won’t spend time dwelling on the injuries or drawing Massillon in the state semifinal game.
What they will do, and what separates them from the rest of the SWC, is shift their focus to 2020 and continue to set the bar even higher.
And I, for one, cannot wait to see what is in store next season.
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