Avon Lake got a hard lesson last season in what happens when you don’t put teams away. The Shoremen are trying to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
Avon Lake lost three games by a total of 12 points, finishing 6-4 and missing the Division II, Region 6, playoffs. The Shoremen were in playoff position until dropping their final two games — to Southwestern Conference foes and playoff qualifiers Olmsted Falls and Midview — by a combined five points.
This year’s motto: Finish.
“We were five plays away from being 9-1, but there’s a flip side to that — we were five plays away from losing some games we won, too,” Avon Lake coach Matt Kostelnik said. “This year’s about finishing — finishing drives, making the most of our opportunities. Get the ball inside the opponent’s 40 and finish those drives off and not come away with zero.”
How close were the Shoremen to an entirely different season? Let’s count the ways:
- Against Midview, the Shoremen had two turnovers inside the Middies’ 10-yard line, including with under a minute to go as they drove for a potential game-winning (and playoff-sealing) win.
- A week prior against Olmsted Falls at home, Avon Lake went for two in overtime after tying the game — and came up empty.
- In Week 2 against North Olmsted, the Shoremen fumbled three times at the Eagles’ goal line and lost by a touchdown in overtime.
They had five turnovers overall.
“It was a very frustrating year last year, being that close to making the playoffs,” said senior quarterback Jack Mikolich, who threw for 1,656 yards and 10 touchdowns and ran for 401 more yards and six scores. “It would have made the season much more enjoyable. It pushes us a lot to work harder in the offseason and put us over the edge.”
Mikolich leads an offense that has opposing SWC coaches talking, including Avon coach Mike Elder, who said he thinks the Shoremen are the most talented team in the league.
The Shoremen’s top receiver, Cole Schraff, is back, having caught 47 passes for nearly 700 yards a year ago. Luke Fedders was Avon Lake’s second-leading receiver last year, and Kostelnik raves about Creed Bolognia, who’s 6-foot-6 and has big potential.
Running back Konner Riggs is back, too, after running ran for 1,210 yards and scoring six times last year. The Shoremen lost center and two-year starter Kyle Leach and Will Daniger on the line, but Ryan Beckman (6-3, 290 pounds, left guard), RJ Prusha (6-1, 240, right tackle) and Jackson Armbrecht (6-4, 260, left tackle) are back.
The Shoremen will be looking for some new faces to contribute on a young but talented defense, one that allowed only 175 points in a league known for some capable offenses. (The Shoremen held Berea-Midpark to 24 points, the second fewest the Titans scored all year.)
Linebacker Matt Sanders, nose tackle Noah Welsh and Fedders, who plays safety, will look to lead the way, especially in the absence of David Marsh at defensive end. Marsh, who had a handful of sacks and 16 quarterback knockdowns a year ago, lacerated his kidney in camp and is out for an unknown period.
Sanders said some new names will make a big impact on defense, including Josh Vlasak at safety, Beckman and Owen Callesen on the line and Ryan McCrum at linebacker.
“We have some young guys who are inexperienced, but who play really hard,” Sanders said. “That will help us get better.”
Sanders (6-0, 202) is an interesting story himself: He missed the first three games of last season but rebounded to earn his spot at fullback, scoring six touchdowns in the season’s final six games as the short-yardage back. He also was one of the defense’s top performers from his linebacker spot.
“I’m more mature as a player and a leader now, and I’m ready to lead our defense,” he said.
AVON LAKE SHOREMEN
Conference: Southwestern Conference
2017 record: 6-4, 5-4
Returning lettermen: 24
Returning starters 13 (9 offense, 4 defense)
Playoff appearances: 19
Last time in playoffs: 2016, lost in Division II second round to Whitehouse Anthony Wayne
Numbers game: 5 — The Shoremen lost their final two games to Olmsted Falls and Midview, costing them a playoff spot, by a combined five points. Olmsted Falls and Midview went a combined 19-5 and played each other in the Division II, Region 6, playoffs, which the Bulldogs won 26-23.
Player to Watch: Noah Welsh. The nose tackle, along with Matt Sanders at linebacker and Luke Fedders at safety, are the Shoremen’s most impactful defensive players on a young unit.
Aug. 24 at Elyria
Aug. 31 North Olmsted*
Sept. 7 Avon*
Sept. 14 at Westlake*
Sept. 21 Lakewood*
Sept. 28 North Ridgeville*
Oct. 5 at Amherst*
Oct. 12 Berea-Midpark*
Oct. 19 at Olmsted Falls*
Oct. 26 at Midview*
* Southwestern Conference
All games at 7 p.m.