As good as the Avon Eagles have been this season, before last Friday’s game at North Ridgeville they got even better.
Junior running back Nick Perusek, who had missed the majority of the season after a high ankle sprain suffered in the second week of the season against Olmsted Falls, was back in the starting lineup for the Eagles.
Perusek, who got significant carries on Avon’s 13-win team last season as a sophomore, carried the ball a handful of times two weeks ago against Lakewood to get back into the swing of things. Against North Ridgeville … he ran wild.
Perusek carried the ball 14 times for 186 yards and four touchdowns — all in the first half — during a 56-21 win over the Rangers. He also caught a pair of passes for 51 yards. It was the first significant action he saw since picking up 245 yards with a pair of touchdowns against the Bulldogs in early September.
In Perusek’s absence the Eagles (7-1, 6-1 Southwestern Conference) did not deviate from what they wanted to do offensively. Everyone moved up the depth chart and they relied on running the football, as in the past, behind their massive offensive line.
As a team the Eagles have rushed for 2,078 yards — averaging 6.9 yards per carry — and 28 touchdowns.
“The running game’s been our strength, even without Nick,” Avon coach Mike Elder said. “We’ve run the ball very effectively. In Nick’s absence, Mark Steinmetz and Aaron Endrizal, both seniors, had a lot of carries and Devon Hunter, a sophomore, along with a junior Cole Zamborsky, got some carries.
“It’s been a ‘running back by committee’ without him.”
Steinmetz has rushed for 343 yards and six touchdowns. Endrizal has 236 rushing yards with a touchdown, while Hunter has picked up 250 rushing yards with three touchdowns.
When Perusek was first injured, it wasn’t clear how severe the sprain to his right ankle was. He never imagined he’d miss nearly five games.
“I was running towards the end zone and got tackled,” he said. “As I got tackled I got kind of flipped over and landed on my ankle. It just kind of slipped out. Even after I went to the doctor I thought I would be out about two weeks, then would feel fine.
“I actually tried practicing after two weeks and it was not better at all.”
Elder didn’t think it looked as severe as it actually was.
“Initially we thought he’d be able to play the next week,” Elder said. “It was a crazy play that he got hurt on and it took him a little longer to get back, but I’m glad we waited and did things the way we did because he looks to be close to 100 percent.
“If he would have come back the week after, maybe he’s hobbling around at 60 percent now, and what makes him special is the burst and the speed and the vision. You have to watch him play to understand what I’m talking about. He just makes it look easy at times.”
The traits Elder talked about are why they didn’t rush Perusek back into action.
“After I hand the ball off to him in practice, just watching him, his change of direction and how fast he can go from one place to another … he can change directions and doesn’t slow down when he does it,” Avon quarterback Ryan Maloy said. “It’s really hard to close in on him, hard to close in on anyone that can go the opposite way without slowing down.
“He’s crazy … he’s fast, he can jump and he has incredible vision.”
When Perusek finally felt like he was ready, Elder and his coaching staff did not hesitate to get him back on the field.
“It was a matter of him being honest with us. We trust him,” Elder said. “When he told us he was ready to come back we were OK with it. The week he said he was ready to come back was against Lakewood.
“We decided to let him come back and gave him three carries. If we wanted him to have had 400 yards rushing against Lakewood to get everyone’s attention, could we have done that? Sure, but that’s not who we are. That’s not what we’ll ever be.
“That’s why we have 93 kids playing football and that’s why we win.”
Perusek, despite missing most of the season with his injury, still leads the Eagles in rushing with 531 yards on 54 carries, with seven touchdowns.
Avon travels to Amherst this week before wrapping up the regular season at Berea-Midpark. Both the Comets and Titans are fighting for their playoff lives while the Eagles are hoping to host a first-round game.
“It’s going to be tough but I’m really looking forward to it,” Perusek said of the two-game stretch. “I think these next two games will be like playoff games because they’re both playoff-caliber teams.”
With his feature running back returned to the lineup, Elder looks forward to his team’s run to the playoffs.
“I think last week was our most complete performance,” Elder said. “Now these next two weeks, like we’re telling our kids, they are playoff games. Amherst is playing for their playoff lives and we’re playing for a home playoff spot.
“We’ve got to win at least one of the two to get in. One game will guarantee us the playoffs. We lose two, maybe, but no one wants to be in the playoffs having lost two straight games.
“The truth is, these are two playoff games for us. We’re playing them like that. Everyone is back in the lineup, healthy, in terms of starters, so I like where we’re at and we’ll see where it goes.”
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