Avon's Mark Steinmetz runs in the fourth quarter against Toledo Central Catholic. DAVID RICHARD / CHRONICLE
CLYDE -- Avon knew the odds were stacked against it during Friday’s Division II regional final against top-seeded, unbeaten and state-ranked Toledo Central Catholic.
It didn’t matter.
The Eagles used a dominating first-half performance, four defensive takeaways and a back-breaking scoring drive in the fourth quarter to upend the Irish 37-22 and earn their second straight trip to the state tournament.
“I don’t think people realize how special this was,” Avon coach Mike Elder said. “That’s a really good football team. I told our kids throughout the week, ‘You play them 10 times, you probably lose nine but you only have to beat them once’ … and we did that tonight.”
At the epicenter of the winning performance was senior quarterback Ryan Maloy, who also came up with several big plays from his safety position on defense.
Maloy hurt Toledo Central Catholic with his arm -- throwing for a pair of touchdowns to Ryan Jones to build a 16-0 lead in the first quarter. He hurt the Irish with his feet -- rushing 17 times for 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He even hurt them with his mouth -- using a hard count to induce an Irish offsides penalty on fourth-and-short.
“This is his eighth playoff start, so you kind of expect that out of him,” Elder said. “He doesn’t waver in the face of adversity. Things were starting to go really bad for the Avon Eagles (in the second half), and that’s what I love about this team. They’re able to just respond.”
Maloy responded multiple times with big runs when the Eagles (12-1) needed them most. He burned the Irish defense over and over with a draw play up the middle -- once for a 75-yard touchdown and another time for a 24-yard gain on third-and-22.
“They brought a lot of edge pressure,” Elder said of TCC’s defense. “We saw that and we knew that we weren’t going to block the widest guy, but if we got right downhill we could isolate the middle linebacker and they’re in cover zero so there’s nobody there, so you can run those corners off.
“We drew it up on Sunday and thought it would be a touchdown and it was. We ran it about five times tonight and it was successful every time.”
“We know they were heavy blitzing, so we executed perfectly against that,” Maloy said. “The line just opened it up and I just hit a hole. I don’t know how long I was running, but I just ran until I went down.”
Avon jumped on TCC (12-1) early, stopping them on three straight plays to open the game and taking a 2-0 lead when senior linebacker Mark Steinmetz blocked the punt out of the end zone for a safety.
The Eagles kept the pressure on with the two first-quarter touchdown passes -- the first a 24-yarder down the middle that Jones made a diving catch for, and the second a 25-yarder that Jones caught around the 5-yard line crossing toward the left sideline before cutting down the line and diving for the pylon.
“(Jones) was amazing tonight. We don’t win the game if he’s not on the field making the catches and the plays that he did,” Maloy said. “That post that he caught for the (first) touchdown … I thought I missed the throw and he extended fully and somehow managed to make an amazing catch. Then he made an amazing dive on his second one and that big fourth-down conversion down here (in the second half) … man, he played like a dude tonight and we definitely needed him on the field.”
Maloy’s two rushing touchdowns were sandwiched around a pick-six by TCC’s Alfred Dailey, and the Eagles went into the half with a 30-7 lead.
“They’ve given up 63 points the entire year. I went to watch the one game where they gave up 17 and come to find out it was 35-0 at one point, so that didn’t help much,” Elder said. “That’s a great defense, and offensively there are some guys with some different gears out there, so for our team to stand in there and do what they did in the first half especially was remarkable.
“It’s crazy because you go in with a huge lead and talk about putting teams away but I just talked about ‘you’re going to get hit in the face with a wave of emotion and you’ve got to stand in there and play the next play.’ Boy did we get hit in the face with it. It was turning south there real quick.”
TCC stopped Avon on its opening drive of the second half, then Jase Bowen made it 30-14 with a 42-yard touchdown run. The Irish then turned Avon’s lone fumble into a touchdown -- an 8-yard run by Troy Durden -- right before the end of the third quarter, with Bowen running in the 2-point conversion to make it 30-22.
The Eagles remained unfazed. They methodically marched down the field -- Maloy and Steinmetz chewing up bits of yardage, earning first downs on big third- and fourth-down conversions and even watching a failed field goal attempt be neutralized by a TCC offsides penalty -- before Steinmetz plowed into the end zone from 4 yards out to clinch the victory. The drive ate 10 minutes off the clock.
“I told the line at the beginning of the drive that they were going to be the ones that win this game for us and they held up to the standard that we’ve talked about all year,” Maloy said. “They executed perfectly, gave me time, gave our running backs holes and they really make our offense what it is.”
“You don’t know until you step in there with these guys, and honestly we think we’re really good up front … like, we’re special good up front,” Elder said. “We’ve got some guys that can play anywhere and three or four of them will be playing Division I (in college) before it’s said and done.
“That team’s only giving up 54 yards rushing a game, and we knew coming in that we had to run the ball to be successful. To eat the clock and continue down the field and score, it was big. We had to be good and lucky in this game … and they both happened.”
Avon finished with 300 rushing yards and the 37 points it scored more than doubled TCC’s worst defensive effort -- a 42-17 win over Columbus Bishop Hartley in the season opener.
Making the Irish play from behind for the first time was key to Avon pulling out the upset win.
“We talked about that. We said we were going to come in here and – A., get run out of the stadium or B., we were going to win a close game,” Elder said. “I felt like if we could weather the storm, play the first 24 minutes -- and I never dreamed we’d be up like we were -- but if we could just plant a seed of doubt in their minds, then we would have a chance.
“As it was, they came out pretty inspired in that second half and thankfully we had that big lead because we needed all of it.”
The Eagles will need more of the same Friday in the Division II state semifinals against an opponent and at a location that will be announced Sunday. The teams Avon could face are Cincinnati Winton Woods, Massillon Washington and defending state champion Akron Hoban, who beat the Eagles in the state semifinals last season.
Steinmetz, who rushed 31 times for 94 yards and the game-winning touchdown, was asked if he’ll have anything left in the tank next week.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said with a smile. “I just got to go home, get my rest like always … definitely going to have to ice up after taking those big hits all night. Yes, we all got something left in the tank. We’re coming back next week. We’re going to that state championship.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him @ShaunBennettct on Twitter.
Avon 37, Toledo Central Catholic 22
Avon 16 14 0 7 -- 37
Toledo C. Catholic 0 7 15 0 -- 22
A -- SAFETY, Mark Steinmetz blocks TCC punt out of end zone
A -- Ryan Jones, 24 pass from Ryan Maloy (Nathan Vakos kick)
A -- Jones, 25 pass from Maloy (Vakos kick)
A -- Maloy, 75 run (Vakos kick)
TCC -- Alfred Dailey, 44 interception return (Jerod Landrum kick)
A -- Maloy, 19 run (Vakos kick)
TCC -- Jase Bowen, 42 run (Landrum kick)
TCC -- Troy Durden, 8 run (Bowen run)
A -- Steinmetz, 4 run (Vakos kick)
First downs 23 12
-- by rushing 16 11
-- by passing 5 0
-- by penalty 2 1
Yards rushing 300 205
Yards passing 74 2
Total offense 374 207
Passes att./comp. 17/7 4/1
Intercepted by 1 1
Fumbles/lost 1/1 3/3
Penalties/yards 3/25 5/25
RUSHING — (A) Ryan Maloy 17-151, Mark Steinmetz, 31-94, Joey Lance 8-38, Tyler Snevel 1-9, Ryan Jones 1-4, Joey Allen 1-4. (TCC) Jase Bowen 10-115, Troy Durden 19-65, Jonzell Norrils 3-13, Randy Williams 1-9, Sharif McGee 2-3.
PASSING — (A) Maloy 7-17-74-2-1. (TCC) Durden 1-4-2-0-1.
RECEIVING — (A) Jones 3-57, Tommy Purcell 2-11, Lance 1-5, Steinmetz 1-1. (TCC) Bowen 1-2.