Avon Lake's Konner Riggs breaks past North Ridgeville's Cael Bright. STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE
AVON LAKE -- Matt Kostelnik knew all along North Ridgeville would be a tough game for his state-ranked, unbeaten Avon Lake team.
He was right.
The Rangers threw -- actually, ran -- a mighty scare at the Shoremen before falling 35-21 in Southwestern Conference play at Memorial Stadium.
“They’re a much better football team than 1-5,” said Kostelnik, Avon Lake’s coach. “I said before the game you don’t know what team you’re going to get and they had a great game plan. They executed at a high level. Great job by them.”
Running behind 5-foot-10, 295-pound Jacob Mozny, the Rangers almost pulled the upset of the year. Mozny moved from center to the backfield and opened holes all night for North Ridgeville’s two-headed monster of Cade Riley and Shane Swindig. Riley rushed for 130 yards and Swindig 104 as the Rangers totaled 242 on the ground.
North Ridgeville’s ground game couldn’t be stopped and it opened the way for a trick halfback pass from Riley to a wide-open Tyler Richmond that had the game tied at 21 with 9:42 left in the third quarter.
“Give credit to the guys up front,” North Ridgeville coach Luke Durbin said. “Tyler Perry, John Leili, Stephen Schultz, Dustin McElhaney, Collin McLaughlin, Bryce Howell -- I think I got everybody. We moved (Mozny) around the field, had him lead block. They did an excellent job.”
Twice the Rangers came from behind to tie Avon Lake, using a botched punt and an onside kick to surprise the Shoremen. North Ridgeville also forced three turnovers, two interceptions and a fumble.
Mason Grow picked up a short punt at the 8-yard line for North Ridgeville’s first score, and Cael Bright recovered an onside kick to set up Riley’s 3-yard run that tied the game at 14.
Avon Lake (6-0 overall) was up to the task and sits alone atop the tough and balanced SWC at 5-0. North Ridgeville fell to 1-5, 1-4.
“It was nice to see us take advantage of the deep game.” Kostelnik said. “We hadn’t really stretched the field much in the last couple games. Teams were attacking us at certain points. We’ve got some things to figure out offensively.”
Avon Lake quarterback Jack Mikolich had a huge game after overcoming an interception on his first throw and another in the first half. Mikolich finished with 282 yards and four touchdowns -- three to Cole Schraff -- and ran for another score to keep the Shoremen’s record clean.
“It was nice to see our kids handle some adversity and battle back after having several turnovers,” Kostelnik said. “It really came down to winning fourth down in the red zone. Hat’s off to Jack. Night and day from last year. Last year, he stepped back a little bit, but this year he just kept slinging.”
“We just really stayed positive with everyone,” Mikolich said. “On the sidelines we just tried to keep our energy up.”
One big sequence turned things around for the Shoremen. At the end of the first half with the game tied at 14, the Rangers stopped Avon Lake at the 39-yard line on downs with just 17 seconds remaining. Everyone thought North Ridgeville might take a knee and end the half, but Durbin gambled with a running play that was fumbled, and Avon Lake’s Nico LaBianca recovered at the line of scrimmage and returned it to the 26.
“No, if it goes for a touchdown, I’m a hero,” Durbin said when asked if he had second thoughts. “Four times we’ve had the ball in that situation and we’ve run it every time.”
With just six seconds left, Schraff split a pair of defenders and caught a perfectly thrown Mikolich pass inside the 5 and continued into the end zone to give the lead back to Avon Lake at halftime.
“We just wanted to take the momentum from the fumble and take advantage of it,” Mikolich said.
“They had two (defenders) over top and they split wide to cover the outside zone. I’m not sure why,” said Schraff, who caught six balls for 127 yards. “I beat the corner to the inside and Jack threw it on a line, which was beautiful. I just made the play and it was huge going up 21-14 at half.”
The Shoremen answered North Ridgeville’s 67-yard touchdown pass with an eight play, 66-yard drive that Schraff capped with a 30-yard TD reception. After a missed field goal attempt by the Rangers, Avon Lake put away the game with a seven-play, 80-yard drive aided by a personal foul penalty. Mikolich’s 5-yard keeper iced the game.
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Avon Lake 35, North Ridgeville 21
North Ridgeville 0 14 7 0 — 21
Avon Lake 14 7 7 7 — 35
AL — Luke Fedders, 63 pass from Jack Mikolich (Harry Hebert kick)
AL — Cole Schraff, 8 pass from Mikolich (Hebert kick)
NR — Mason Grow, 8 punt return (Aden Vanover kick)
NR — Cade Riley, 3 run (Vanover kick)
AL — Schroff, 26 pass from Mikolich (Hebert kick)
NR — Tyler Richmond, 67 pass from Riley (Vanover kick)
AL — Schroff, 30 pass from Mikolich (Hebert kick)
AL — Mikolich, 10 run (Hebert kick)
First downs 15 16
— by rushing 12 6
— by passing 3 9
— by penalty 0 1
Yards rushing 242 108
Yards passing 97 282
Total offense 339 390
Passes att./comp. 11/6 24/12
Intercepted by 2 1
Fumbles/lost 1/1 1/1
Penalties/yards 8/55 9/73
RUSHING — (NR) Cade Riley 20-130, Shane Swindig 21-104, Matt Steinmetz 10-7, Jacob Dunstan 1-1, Cael Bright 1-0. (AL) Konner Riggs 16-87, Jack Mikolich 4-14, Ryan McCrum 3-7.
PASSING — (NR) Steinmetz 5-10-30-0-1, Riley 1-1-67-1-0. (AL) Mikolich 12-24-282-4-2.
RECEIVING — (NR) Jeremy Sanchez 3-28, Tyler Richmond 1-67, Bryce Howell 1-4, Riley 1-(-2). (AL) Cole Schraff 6-127, Nathan Sidloski 3-25, Luke Fedders 2-129, McCrum 1-11.