Sunday, November 19, 2017 Elyria 32°

The Blitz

Shaun Bennett: Loss hurts, but Avon's future is in good hands


BRUNSWICK — The Avon Eagles could win a state championship with sophomore quarterback Jake Sopko leading their offense the next two years. If they do, senior quarterback Tommy Glenn will deserve a huge assist.

Glenn followed the recent pattern of Eagles starting quarterbacks earning the role for the first time during their senior season. He had a forgettable appearance in last season’s regional final, then was tasked with leading an Eagles offense that had lost a superstar running back — Ross Douglas, who now plays at Michigan — and a stud quarterback in David Zeh.

“Tommy Glenn didn’t have a lot of game experience last year, but he hit the ground running and had as good a year as anybody in the state of Ohio,” Eagles coach Mike Elder said. “So Tommy Glenn’s played exceptionally well and he’s a big reason we were in the regional finals (this season).”

Glenn completed 174 of 262 passes (66 percent) for 2,530 yards and 26 touchdowns, leading the Eagles through an unblemished regular season and a pair of playoff victories to get to the Division II, Region 4 showdown with Highland on Friday night.

Glenn had to rely on sophomore running back Gerett Choat to pick up where Douglas left off, and he was asked to platoon — and mentor — Sopko, who completed 38 of 57 passes (67 percent) for 466 yards and seven TDs.

“I think we’re pretty much similar,” Sopko said. “Tommy’s a great guy, he’s a great player, a great leader … and I think I learned a lot from him this year. I think that was huge.”

The two are close in stature — Glenn is 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds, while Sopko stands 6-2 and 180 — and skill, but Glenn won the starting job thanks to a confident demeanor, a surplus of maturity and being in possession of the leadership that was needed by an offensive captain.

Sopko seems to have shown steady improvement throughout the season, and when he was needed Friday night he came in and showed those same attributes as the Eagles (12-1) matched the Hornets score for score.

After a stellar postseason opener against Toledo St. Francis de Sales, Glenn threw four interceptions — Sopko also threw a pick-six — during a 24-21 victory over Perrysburg in the regional semifinal. Both Avon quarterbacks threw crucial touchdown passes during the Perrysburg game, too.

But with the offense struggling under Glenn — he finished 7-of-12 for 90 yards — the Eagles turned to Sopko for a change of pace against Highland … and the move paid off.

Sopko led a second-quarter scoring drive that tied the game at 7, connecting on all six passes for 89 yards — including a 48-yard bomb to standout senior wide receiver Braeden Friss. Choat finished the drive with a 5-yard run up the middle.

Highland (13-0) scored late in the first half and with Avon getting the ball to start the third quarter, Elder stayed with Sopko to keep the spark alive.

“That’s exactly what we’ve done all year long. Whoever had the hot hand, that’s who we went with … and that’s the same thing we did tonight,” Elder said. “Jake gave us a lift and a boost … and we had a chance to win the game.”

It helped that the hot hand is attached to a cannon of an arm, as Sopko hit junior Zack Torbert for a 54-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the second half. After the Hornets answered with a score, Sopko hit Friss for a 38-yard touchdown to again tie the game.

Sopko completed 11 of 20 passes for 224 yards and the two TDs, and just missed a handful of other big passes that might have been the difference in the 24-21 loss to Highland.

But the big performance in the regional final, coupled with seeing significant time during the regular season — something Elder said he did because of Glenn’s struggles in last year’s regional final after Zeh was injured — could be a huge asset for the Eagles in the upcoming seasons.

“It’s a huge confidence booster and it’s great to get all this experience,” Sopko said. “But next time we want to be on the winning side of this. We’re going to remember this and we’re going to get the ‘W’ next time.”

Elder used the quarterback platoon attack in 2010 with senior Cody Schroeder and junior Justin O’Rourke, and he saw it pay off with a big senior season from O’Rourke, who led the Eagles to the Division II state championship game.

The coach will have two years for Sopko to lead the charge.

“I think he’s got a big arm, he’s got great size … but he’s just a baby right now,” Elder said. “He’s a sophomore and he can be special, but he has to work at it and he knows that … and hopefully he’s willing to do that.”

Sopko already has the physical tools. It appears he has added Glenn’s confidence and ability to lead. His postgame quotes show he is hungry for more than what Avon accomplished this season.

If he completes the work Elder expects of him and continues to grow as a player, the Eagles will be lifting a different — and much better — trophy in the near future.

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @ShaunBennettct.

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