AVON — It was third down and 22 yards to go for a first down.
Avon’s football team was clearly reeling and Toledo Central Catholic had all the momentum in the world after coming back from 24 points down to make last Friday’s Division II regional final a one-possession game at 30-22.
The season was pretty much on the line.
“Yeah, they had all the momentum in that moment,” Avon coach Mike Elder said Tuesday. “Then when it’s third down and long, they’re going to turn it loose in that situation and bring pressure. That’s what we thought they’d do.”
Ryan Maloy, Avon’s three-year senior quarterback, had scored twice on draw plays and had another run of 19 yards in the first half. When his number was called again to draw the defensive line and push the rest of the defense away to cover the receivers, he was more than ready.
“We were very confident as an offense knowing how well our O-linemen can block,” Maloy said. “We were confident in the play call because we worked on it to an extreme during the week in practice. It felt good when we ran it earlier in the game. I like running the play just because of the guys I have in front of me. They do an extremely good job and it makes my job that much easier.”
Maloy picked up 24 yards and the first down and kept the Eagles’ season rolling. They’ll take on top-ranked Akron Archbishop Hoban on Friday at 7 p.m. in a state semifinal at Brunswick High School.
“Putting the ball in the hands of your best player is not a bad idea any time,” Elder said of the huge play. “Specifically when you think they’re going to give you the defense you drew that play up for.”
It was a huge play, quite possibly a season-saver. But it was just part of an impressive, grinding and gritty fourth-quarter drive the Eagles unleashed that kept the Irish defense on their heels and their offense off the field.
In fact, it was a 62-yard drive that ate up almost the entire fourth quarter – 9:56 – and ended with a game-sealing touchdown.
Tuesday, Elder and several of the primary contributors of the drive broke it down.
Avon had taken advantage of several breaks and made a few big plays to open a 30-6 halftime lead but the Irish weren’t about to quit.
To start the second half, Central forced Avon to punt and quickly scored on Jase Brown’s 42-yard sweep to cut the score to 30-14 with 8:43 to go in the third quarter.
A bad snap to Maloy and a huge 13-yard loss on a fourth-and-short on Avon’s next series had Central in business again but after driving to the Eagles’ 12-yard line for a first down, Avon’s defense rose up.
Linebackers Jake Wilson and Mark Steinmetz combined to stop Brown for no gain and defensive end Jack Roesch sniffed out a run by Sharif McGee for a short gain. On third-and-8, Brown fumbled and Roesch pounced on the ball to stop Central’s drive.
Avon managed to move near midfield but Maloy was hit and fumbled with 20 seconds left in the third quarter. Central’s Vince Klempner recovered and almost before the Eagles could regroup, Troy Durden had scored after runs of 16, 11 and 8 yards. Brown, on an inside double reverse, took a pitch from McGee and ran in untouched for the 2-point conversion. With just 22 seconds left in the third quarter, the Irish had the deficit down to 30-22.
That’s when the Eagles showed what they’re made of.
Ryan Jones took the kickoff around his own 28 and got it to the 38 to end the third quarter. It certainly didn’t look good when Steinmetz was stopped for no gain and Avon was flagged for illegal procedure to make it second-and-15 its own 33. Maloy was then sacked for a loss of seven, setting up the third-and-long at the 26.
“We knew we had struggled in the third quarter,” senior guard Matt Schuler said. “We knew in order for us to win this game and get to the final four, get another chance at Hoban, we knew we had to do something on that drive. Our coach kept telling us to play the next play.
“We knew we had to play our best and anything could happen on any play — especially when you have a guy like Maloy in the backfield.”
“We knew our O-line — we had to rely on them to get good blocks,” Steinmetz said. “We knew Ryan was a great runner. We decided to give him the ball and our O-line did what was expected and blocked everyone perfectly. I came up through and put a block on the linebacker and Ryan did his thing and ran for a first down.”
Simple as that.
Maloy dropped back to draw the rush and then broke free and “ran for his life” before stepping out of bounds at midfield for a first down and a breath of hope with 10:09 left in the game.
“On that play, when it was third-and-22 and (Elder) called a QB run, I was like ‘OK,’” Schuler said. “But then the formation we practiced against when they bring that linebacker and safety up off the edge, they did that on that exact play. They ran that exact formation that we designed it against. Worked perfectly.
“It was insane. The fact Maloy was able to get 24 out of that and get the first down, it turned the momentum of the game.”
“When I was running I didn’t even see the sticks,” Maloy said of the first-down marker. “I hit the hole and just kind of kept going. When I looked up, I saw the sticks. It was a cool. Cool little thing that happened. We had to build off of that and things just kept getting better.”
That’s all the Eagles needed and it cast some doubt with the Irish.
“Big play in that game,” Elder said. “Biggest play without question. On a play like that, you have to be good and lucky.”
Steinmetz carried two times to the 41 but was stuffed for no gain on third down. Maloy ran a quarterback sneak and somehow, someway rolled to the 37 for another first down.
Steinmetz picked up 2 yards but Maloy was stopped for a loss of one by All-Ohio linebacker Ja’Kobe Crowell. Steinmetz then picked up 2 yards, setting up another crucial third down-and-7 from the 34.
Cool as a cucumber, Maloy found Ryan Jones open on the sideline for 8 yards.
Steinmetz bulldozed his way for 5 yards and another Maloy keeper picked up another first down at the 15 with 4:16 to play. Steinmetz rushed for 3 and Maloy passed to Tommy Purcell for 4 more to the 8. On third down, Maloy was stopped at the 7. With 2:08 to play, Elder called time out to discuss the possibilities.
Freshman kicker Nathan Vakos was sent in to try a 23-yard field goal but it appeared his kick missed. However, Central was offside, setting up a first-and-goal from the 4.
“They blew the whistle,” Elder said. “It’s a dead ball foul. The whistle was blown right when the ball was being kicked. It ended up not going through. Do I know if that had an affect on it or not? I don’t know but it’s a dead ball foul so if the ball had gone through the uprights, it isn’t as though in that situation we would have been able to decline the penalty. We’d have had to re-kick it.”
Steinmetz wouldn’t be denied after that. He scored and Vakos made the point after for the final 37-22 win.
“He runs exceptionally hard,” Elder said of Steinmetz. “He’s a tough, tough kid. Sometimes you can’t measure a player’s heart and he has tremendous heart.”
Avon had killed all but 2:04 of the clock with its clutch drive that covered 62 yards and ate up 9:56 of the fourth quarter.
“I knew I just had to get some yards and not fumble the ball,” Steinmetz said. “Throughout the whole drive, I was kind of checking the clock. I didn’t really realize how much time we actually took.”
“No, I was just focusing on the next play,” Maloy said when asked if he realized the drive ate up almost the entire fourth quarter. “I really didn’t look at the clock much.”
“That was by design,” Elder said. “We wanted to score, obviously, and if we’d have had an explosive play — great — but when you’re playing teams like Toledo Central Catholic or Akron Hoban, there’s not tons of explosive plays because there are great athletes on the back end.”
Central fumbled the ball away on its first play of the next series with Aaron Endrizal recovering to officially end the game.
“I told a lot of the guys after the game that was the best drive I’ve ever been a part of,” Schuler said.
- Avon ready to air it out against Hoban
- High school football: Avon gets chance at revenge, faces Hoban in state semifinal at same site as last year's loss
- High school football playoffs: Avon dominates top-seeded Toledo Central Catholic, earns second straight trip to state
- High school football playoffs: Fighting Irish can't stop Avon's Mark Steinmetz ... and they can't contain him either
- High school football: Three-sport standout Jack Roesch is a force for Avon
- High school football: Avon facing tough challenge in regional title game