Even after a decisive 45-7 victory over conference-rival North Ridgeville, Avon Lake coach Matt Kostelnik found little details his team still needed to clean up moving forward.
Such is the perfectionist nature of a coach and team with Division II playoff aspirations.
Beyond a blocked Harry Hebert 37-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter and a 96-yard touchdown drive by the host Rangers in the fourth quarter, the Shoremen (4-1, 3-1 Southwestern Conference) put on a defensive clinic and used a well-balanced offense to run away with their fourth victory in a row.
Until North Ridgeville senior quarterback Tyler Richmond pushed his way into the end zone for a 1-yard score against most of the Shoremen backup unit, Avon Lake had nearly secured its third consecutive shutout.
“I think we played pretty well, but there’s always tiny details that we can get better at,” Kostelnik said. “Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. Tonight, I think we can learn from some things we didn’t take care of. I can’t stand a blocked field goal; that drives me crazy. So we’ve got to shore that up. And we’ve got to get ready for a tough Amherst team next week.”
When the defensive starters were playing, they were ferocious. They combined for nine tackles for losses, sacked Richmond three times — two by Jacob Sintic — and recorded three interceptions. During a two-and-a-half-minute stretch of the third quarter, junior cornerback Nathan Cikalo intercepted Richmond twice for touchdowns, putting his team up 45-0 with more than 17 minutes left to play.
With less than two minutes left in the third, junior Sam Mikolich intercepted Rangers backup quarterback Caden Masterson, halting another drive. The Rangers were held to 151 yards and five first downs and had just 29 yards at halftime with the Shoremen up, 28-0.
“(The defense) has been doing fantastic,” Kostelnik said. “Coach (Bob) Brickley and our defensive staff have been doing great, and the kids are buying into the 11-as-one mentality. We’re small up front but we’re fast, and we’re playing tough. We’re all running to the football, even our corners are tackling well.”
Richmond finished with 41 yards on 14 carries and completed three of nine passes for 16 yards. Senior Shane Swindig led North Ridgeville in rushing with 88 yards on 13 carries — 52 coming on a single play in the fourth quarter that helped get the team closer to scoring its lone touchdown of the night. But Avon Lake’s defense remained tough as the Rangers will see all season.
“Their defensive line is just so fast and athletic,” Rangers coach Luke Durbin said. “And they’re hard to block in the run game because they move. They’re hard to pass protect. (Senior Nick Marsh) is, I think, one of the best linemen in Northeast Ohio, and they play him all over the field and it’s tough to spread out. They just do a lot of things that make doing what you do difficult.”
Offensively, Avon Lake was without starting running back Gage Duesler, who was unable to play due to an injury suffered the week before. In his place, junior Mason Wheeler filled in with 104 yards and three first-half touchdowns (1, 9 and 8 yards) on a team-high 24 carries.
It was a career game for the 5-foot-9, 170-pounder, who’d previously been playing primarily for the junior varsity team while checking into games late for varsity. His two scores in the first quarter gave the Shoremen a 14-0 lead early, and his third, with 4:42 left in the first half, made it 21-0.
Outside of Wheeler, junior fullback Griffin Lidyard bullied his way to a 2-yard touchdown with 44 seconds to go before halftime, increasing the lead to 28-0.
“I was finding the hole, definitely,” Wheeler said. “The offensive line made some huge holes, especially when we were in the red zone. I have to do a lot of thanking them, especially to them. I’m filling big shoes, obviously. Gage was the starter coming into the year, but I felt good. I’ve been getting reps on the JV and varsity at the end of games, so I felt good coming in.”
Hebert’s 23-yard field goal made it 31-0 three minutes into the third quarter.
Avon Lake also found a healthy balance while Wheeler piled up carries. Junior quarterback Michael Corbo connected with five different receivers and completed 10 of his 15 passes for 155 yards. Senior Nate Sidloski led the way with four catches and 58 yards.
“We’re close (to playing a complete game),” Cikalo said of his team’s overall effort. “It’s not fully complete, but we’re close. If we just keep working hard in practice, we’ll get there eventually.”
Avon Lake’s road will get tougher this Friday when they play host to Amherst (4-1, 3-1 SWC) at 7 p.m. Still in search of its first win, North Ridgeville travels to Berea-Midpark (1-4, 1-3) for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
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