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Kick-starting victories: Harry Hebert has helped Avon Lake find its footing

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    Avon Lake kicker Harry Hebert Nov. 6.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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Lost in all the hoopla surrounding Avon Lake’s huge 44-28 win over Olmsted Falls last week in a Division II regional quarterfinal was the contributions of junior kicker Harry Hebert.

It wasn’t lost on Shoremen coach Matt Kostelnik. Twice on kickoffs, Hebert delivered a perfect pooch kick that Avon Lake managed to recover in Olmsted Falls’ territory. The Shoremen turned both into scores.

The victory allowed Avon Lake to advance to the regional semifinals and face Region 6’s top seed — unbeaten and state-ranked Toledo Central Catholic. Kickoff is at 7 o’clock Friday night at Sandusky Perkins High.

“That ball was going all over the place,” Kostelnik said after the win over the Bulldogs. “Our kicker put some mustard on it a couple times. That really was the difference in the game.”

The one time Hebert did kick it deep, Olmsted Falls’ Michael Howard returned it to the 30-yard line. After Avon Lake scored to go up 10-0 with 9:18 left in the half, Hebert pooched the kick and it spun and eluded a couple of Bulldogs near the 30-yard line.

Sophomore Nathan Cikalo pounced on it giving the Shoremen a first down at the Olmsted Falls 30.

“It was really based on the weather,” Hebert said. “It was so wet and windy that we felt they wouldn’t be able to control the ball once it reached the ground. We did it over and over again (in practice) and obviously it worked out right on Friday.”

“We didn’t want to kick to (Michael Howard) and (Olmsted Falls) kept switching him back and forth, back and forth, and we really didn’t have a good idea of where that ball was going,” Kostelnik said. “The goal was to get the ball on the ground, let our speed take over. We have a great group on the kickoff team. They did a great job running it down.”

Every kickoff from that point was an adventure for Olmsted Falls’ return team. The Bulldogs managed to come up with it a couple times but after the Shoremen scored to go up 38-21 with 5:21 left in the game, Hebert’s squib kick was recovered by Kyle Chandler at the Olmsted Falls 18. Three plays later — all rushes by Konner Riggs — Avon Lake increased the lead to 44-21 and sewed up the victory.

Hebert has been reliable all year for the Shoremen. He’s accounted for 70 of the Shoremen’s points — second on the team to Riggs’ 156 — and has made five of six field goals including a 29-yarder to open the scoring against the Bulldogs. Earlier this season, he made one from 33 yards out. He’s been all but perfect on extra points. His only miss after making 55 straight this year came on Avon Lake’s final score against Olmsted Falls.

So, what happened?

“One of our dudes didn’t block down,” Hebert said with a grin. “It got tipped out and ended up going to the right but we won the game. That’s all that matters.”

“We just didn’t block anybody,” Kostelnik said. “It wasn’t his fault. I told him that the next day. Something happened. It was a little bit of a mental letdown. Guy came through Scott-free and Harry kind of hesitated to let the guy pass and then try to kick it. By that point, it’s over.”

Hebert credits his long snappers for some of his success. The Shoremen employ two snappers — Billy Simpson handles the duty for punts and extra points while Tyler Barone is the center on field goals.

“The whole process is awesome,” Hebert said. “Billy Simpson is a great long snapper. He gets the ball right on target every time. It’s nice. Billy’s a little bit better on getting it back farther. Barone’s more accurate on the field goals. I’ve always punted but this is the first year I’ve kicked. I wasn’t a place kicker at all before this year.”

Kicking isn’t Hebert’s only duty. He averages nearly 40 yards a punt with a long of 48 and is Avon Lake’s backup quarterback. In limited duty, Hebert has completed three of six passes for 14 yards and he has 69 yards rushing on 17 attempts.

“He’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades,” Kostelnik said. “This year, we knew he was going to be our punter returning from last year. He bought in on being a kicker and it’s worked out.”

On defense, Hebert, a linebacker, has been credited with 22 tackles and a sack. He’s caused and recovered a fumble — a big one in helping Avon Lake stave off Amherst earlier in the year. It stopped the Comets just 10 yards from the end zone.

“I rotate in every so often,” Hebert said of his defensive role. “I don’t start there. I sort of do everything. Usually on Friday nights, they use me for kicking mode. Last week it came down to getting two turnovers off that. It was nice.”

Hebert and his teammates are confident going into Friday’s regional semifinal against Toledo Central Catholic, ranked No. 2 behind defending champion Akron Hoban in the final Associated Press Division II poll.

“I think we have a good chance,” Hebert said. “Everyone’s doubting on us but it puts all the pressure on them. We just have to come out and play our game. I think we’ll be fine. We just have to play hard.”

Contact Tim Gebhardt at (440) 329-7135 or at timothygeb@msn.com.


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