It doesn’t take long to see why Toledo Central Catholic is the top seed in Region 6.
Avon is up for the challenge.
The Fighting Irish boast one of the top defenses in Division II, and third-seeded Avon will be the next in line to try and break through against it in the regional final Friday at 7 p.m. at Clyde High School.
“This year it’s been a total team effort,” Toledo Central Catholic coach Greg Dempsey said. “Last year we were known for our defensive line, and those guys graduated, this year the guys bonded together as a unit. Every game it’s been someone different. They play with great effort.”
That effort has produced six shutouts and nine games of holding opponents to seven points or fewer. The most the Fighting Irish have given up is 17, and that occurred in Week 1. Last week, Avon Lake was the first team to score double digits on Toledo Central Catholic in eight weeks.
The Shoremen were limited to just 73 rushing yards, even with top rusher Konner Riggs gaining 79 on 28 carries. He entered the game with 1,855 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Avon also brings a strong running attack, as evident by its 415 rushing yards in a 35-28 win over Anthony Wayne, also at Clyde High School. Running backs Nick Perusek and Mark Steinmetz lead the way, while quarterback Ryan Maloy can also burn defenses with his legs.
Patience will be paramount for the Eagles this week.
“In games like these, our guys have to realize that sometimes 3-yard gains are very successful plays,” Avon coach Mike Elder said. “You’ve got to stay out of the negative yardage plays and just keep chunking and hammering away because they play a feast or famine kind of defense. They take a lot of risks and they gamble a lot. We’re going to need to obviously capitalize on some big plays, but at the same time we need to run the football and that isn’t always going to be big chunks of yards. It’s going to be grinding it out against them.”
The Eagles aren’t just a running team as Maloy is one of the top quarterbacks in the area, throwing for 1,857 yards and 22 touchdowns to five interceptions this year. Dempsey has certainly taken notice.
“They have a quarterback who can really hurt you, he’s an impressive kid,” Dempsey said. “You have to pick your spots and be disciplined because he can hurt you with his feet so much. He’s the scariest quarterback that we’ve faced this year.”
The Fighting Irish are not afraid to bring pressure, as they love to blitz while trusting their five-defensive back set to cover receivers man-to-man. That front-six is led by outside linebacker Ja’Kobe Crowell, who has 11 sacks and 20 tackles for loss.
Elder called Crowell a great football player, adding that the Fighting Irish run creative schemes that allow him to run unblocked — something he said his team will need to be prepared for.
“We need to stay out of those second- and third-and-long situations,” Steinmetz said. “We need to stay out of those defensive favorable positions. Our offensive line has done a great job all year. If they execute their blocks with help from the running backs, Ryan is good enough to make plays and he’s good enough on his feet to make some time if he has to.”
Toledo Central Catholic’s offense is just as deadly as Avon’s on the ground — averaging 280.8 yards and 52 touchdowns for the year. Rushing makes up 81.5 percent of the Fighting Irish’s total offensive yards. And like Avon, they have a dual-threat quarterback in Troy Durden — who has 1,093 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns to go along with 648 passing yards, and has completed 54 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five interceptions.
He’s not alone. Running back Jonzell Norrils has 699 yards on the ground with 11 touchdowns. He racked up 178 of those yards against Avon Lake last week.
But the biggest key to that running attack is Toledo Central Catholic’s offensive line, which returns four starters from last season — senior Nehemiah Cannon at left tackle, junior Jamon Gibson at left guard, senior Cameron Knott at center, senior Andreas Montoya at right guard and senior Vinnie Klempner at right tackle.
Knott is the only one that weighs less than 255 pounds.
“If our defensive line has great success, it will slow them up,” said Steinmetz, who is also one of Avon’s top linebackers. “All of us linebackers have to get good reads and recognize tendencies. If we can execute the game plan, stay assignment sound and stay in our gaps to hold the run game, we should be successful.”