Coach Matt Kostelnik had little to say to his Avon Lake team after Friday’s 31-21 victory over Wadsworth at Strongsville High School. No talk of what it did throughout the game that secured it a regional final berth, but rather just a simple declaration of the team it will play this Friday.
“Hey, we’ve got South next week,” Kostelnik said, eliciting an explosive cheer from his team.
The second-seeded Shoremen now get an opportunity for revenge against their archrival and the No.1 seed in the region, Avon Eagles at North Ridgeville High School. Avon beat No. 4 Benedictine 49-28 Friday at Byers Field in Parma.
In the first game of the season, the Eagles beat the Shoremen 13-12. This time, though, things are different.
Through the next 11 games, Avon has dealt with injuries throughout its team but perhaps most notably losing its starting running back Nick Perusek for the season midway through the year. The Eagles also will be without starting quarterback Danny Zeh who was injured in Avon’s first playoff game against Wooster.
Opposing them will be one of the top defenses in the state as, throughout the regular season, the Shoremen gave up an average of just six points per game.
“I love the fact for our conference, for our county, that we get another game. We get another go at it,” Kostelnik said. “For it to be for a regional championship, it’s amazing. Late in the playoffs, representing Lorain County, I’m excited to see South across the field from us.”
Against Wadsworth, quarterback Michael Corbo had a solid outing (14 of 26 passing for 154 yards, two touchdowns and an interception), and it was that defense that gave the Shoremen offense so many chances to work.
Avon Lake forced five turnovers (four interceptions and one fumble) and Kadyn Viancourt returned a fourth-quarter fumble for a touchdown to tie the game 21-21.
“(Our defense) was tremendous tonight,” Corbo said. “I think that (fumble recovery) was the turning point. I think that gave us momentum, I think that gave us energy. Once that happened, we knew we were taking it home.”
Before Avon Lake tied the game, it had to deal with a persistent Wadsworth offense, led by running back Dom Loparo (25 carries, 218 yards and a touchdown). On the Grizzlies’ first drive, however, it was quarterback Trey Shaffer (13-25, 148 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions) that connected with Tyler Montgomery for a 12-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.
Five minutes later, Corbo had a touchdown pass of his own, finding Griffin Lidyard for a 6-yard score to tie the game. The Shoremen capitalized on the first of Shaffer’s interceptions as, on the ensuing drive, Corbo and Creed Bolognia connected on an 11-yard score for a 14-7 advantage. Another Shaffer touchdown pass on the next drive once again tied the game.
Midway through the third quarter, Loparo broke off his one touchdown of 54 yards for a 21-14 Wadsworth lead.
Viancourt’s fumble return came on the first play of the next Grizzly drive to tie again.
Avon Lake gained the lead when running back Gage Duesler (25 carries, 146 yards and a touchdown) broke through for a 7-yard touchdown run for a 28-21 Shoremen lead with seven minutes left.
“I just knew I had to keep my feet going in the second half and keep getting those extra yards that we needed,” Duesler said. “I knew that cutback was going to be there. I just knew what to do in the moment.”
After Shaffer’s third interception, Harry Hebert kicked a 39-yard field goal with about two minutes left for the final margin. Earlier, Hebert missed two other field goal attempts.
“I got a lot of confidence from my teammates,” Hebert said. “It shows a lot of confidence too that coach Kostelnik will send me out there a third time after I missed two. It was awesome. It was almost like the game was sealed already because we knew our defense was going to step up big.”
The Shoremen defense did just that as, on the final drive of the night, Lidyard picked off Shaffer, allowing Avon Lake’s offense to run out the clock.
Even though the Eagles are banged up heading into Friday’s matchup, Kostelnik isn’t taking anything for granted against Avon.
“We gotta make sure (our) confidence stays up heading into an obviously tough South defense,” Kostelnik said. “South has it going right now.”
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