AVON LAKE — North Olmsted and Avon Lake knew playoff spots were on the line Friday night. Both were more than up for the occasion.
In a Southwestern Conference slugfest that lived up to its advanced billing, it was the Shoremen who emerged victorious, keeping their postseason hopes alive with a 23-20 victory in overtime.
Avon Lake trailed 14-3 in the opening minutes of the third quarter before rallying to win it on a 3-yard run from senior fullback Collin Lucas after the Eagles kicked a 19-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime.
The loss all but knocked North Olmsted (6-3, 2-3) out of the postseason race, while the Shoremen (7-2, 4-1) strengthened their playoff chances and stayed alive in the hunt for another league title — trailing Brecksville-Broadview Heights by a game in the SWC standings.
Avon Lake entered the night ranked seventh (Division II, Region 4) in playoff computer points, with the top eight teams qualifying. North Olmsted was sixth (Division II, Region 3).
“We’re in a one-and-done situation. Our playoffs have already started,” Avon Lake coach Larry Laird said. “When we went down two scores, I was like, ‘uh-oh,’ but we talked as a staff that we were going to stick with our game plan. We knew we could move the ball running the football on them. That was to our strength.”
That game plan worked fine for Avon Lake in the yardage department, but it did little for the Shoremen on the scoreboard in the opening half, with North Olmsted quarterback Brad Novak taking over the game to lead the Eagles to a 7-3 advantage at intermission.
North Olmsted, which missed a 24-yard field goal earlier, scored the game’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run from tailback Ben Kurcsak with 51 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Shoremen faced a halftime deficit and saw a potential second season slipping away.
“That was in our minds the whole time, so at halftime we knew we had to get it together,” said Lucas, who went untouched on a toss sweep for the winning score. “We knew we had to do it because our playoff lives depended on it. Now we just have to win this next game (against 1-8 Amherst) and then our season gets continued. I don’t want our senior season to go short.”
Novak, who threw for 86 yards and ran for 113, marched the Eagles down the field on the second half’s first possession and scored on his own, racing in from 15 yards to put his team in front 14-3.
“Novak is every bit as good as advertised,” Laird said of the senior, who also serves as the punter.
Novak’s TD run seemed to wake Avon Lake, which answered on the ensuing possession with a 1-yard run from senior tailback Wyatt Ohm. Ohm scored again on a 20-yard run that gave the Shoremen their first lead since the opening minutes, as Avon Lake’s vaunted rushing attack began to produce points.
Ohm led all rushers with 171 yards on 27 carries.
“Our running game usually works. Just grind them, that’s our motto,” Lucas said.
The Shoremen had a chance to win in regulation, blocking a punt on a botched snap that set them up on North Olmsted’s 18-yard line with 29 seconds left. But after first-year Eagles coach Tim Brediger called consecutive timeouts to ice kicker Alex Voloshen, Avon Lake’s 35-yard field-goal attempt was wide.
North Olmsted stalled at the 2 in overtime, with Brediger electing to kick the field goal on fourth down.
“(Voloshen), from what we’ve seen all year, has been excellent, so my thought was that I know he missed one to put it into overtime, but he’s not going to miss another one,” Brediger said. “The other thing is, to run the ball 2 or 3 yards against them, it’s not a given. We didn’t want to risk just not having any points. At least by making a field goal, it forced them to make a play.”
They did, with Avon Lake quarterback David Winkel hooking up with Max Seipel for 17 yards on the Shoremen’s first OT play. Lucas scored on the next play to touch off the celebration.
“To come out here in this type of environment and to take a team like that to overtime and keep fighting, I’m proud of each and every one of them,” Brediger said of his players. “As a coach, you can’t ask for anything more than that. Obviously, hats off to Avon Lake. That’s hard for me to say, but they’re a well-coached team and they fought to the end as well.”
Laird was relieved to emerge with a win and his team’s playoff hopes intact.
“As a fan, that’s a great high school football game,” he said. “As a coach, I wanted to throw up about 10 times.”
NEARLY FLAG-FREE: Avon Lake and North Olmsted played clean games for the most part. The Shoremen were flagged just one time for 15 yards on a late interference call, while the Eagles were penalized twice for 20 yards.