Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by David Richard
With 3:26 left in the first quarter, Avon quarterback David Zeh moved away from pressure, tucked the ball under his arm and rambled 15 yards for a touchdown.
Eric Sumislawski made the conversion kick, and the Eagles were tied with Toledo Central Catholic at 7-7 in the Division II Region 6 championship game. Avon’s defense followed up with a six-play stop, further steering the momentum in the Eagles’ favor.
At that point, nobody on either sideline or in the stands could anticipate what was going to happen next.
In the opening moments of the second quarter, Zeh was knocked out of the game with an injury. The Fighting Irish, behind the 134-yard performance of running back Amir Edwards, proceeded to score the game’s next 35 points and ran away with a 42-14 win at Clyde’s Robert J. Bishop Stadium Friday night.
The loss ended another stellar season turned in by the Avon program, just one year removed from making it all the way to the Division II state championship game. The defending state runner-up finished the 2012 campaign at 11-2, just one game shy of returning to the final four.
Central Catholic, the No. 2 team in the region, improved to 12-1 and advanced to next Friday’s state semifinal game. The Irish will take on Aurora, a 34-14 winning over Chardon Friday night.
“It just wasn’t meant to be,” said Avon head coach Mike Elder as he was swarmed by the media near midfield.
“I believe deep down in my soul, no matter how this game went, that we had a chance to play with this football team,” Elder said. “It just wasn’t going to happen tonight. They’re a really good team, and they have a great chance of winning it all.
“I wish them the best of luck. They’re a classy group and played a great football game,” he added.
The Irish, who had dominated both Midview and Madison in their frst two playoff games, had their collective backs to the wall to end the first quarter. That’s when Zeh hit Ralph Smith over the middle for a 29-yard pass completion, giving the Eagles pime field position at the TCC 38-yard line.
The second quarter started with a Zeh pass attempt that went deep, but incomplete. Ross Douglas gained a yard on second down and 10, then Zeh dropped back to pass on third down. Irish linebacker Ian Butler, however, came in for the sack and a 4-yard loss.
But the Eagles lost far more than yardage on the play. Zeh left the field, never to return. In the postgame interview, Elder said that Zeh suffered a “head injury.”
“There are a lot of things that happened in this football game,” Elder said. “I thought we had some momentum and were going pretty good. When you practice all week and you put a game plan in with your quarterback and he gets injured, you have to expect your next guy to come in.”
Junior Tommy Glenn entered the game, but couldn’t move the Eagles on their final three possessions of the half. The Irish, on the other hand, scored on two straight possessions on touchdown runs of 3 and 39 yards by Edwards. That made it 21-7, TCC, with 2:16 left in the half.
“I called different plays when he came in because I wanted to give him a chance to settle in,” Elder said of Glenn’s initial relief performance. “When we did that, they kind of took over control of the game.
“And my fake punt call at the end of the half certainly didn’t help us any,” he added.
On fourth down and two from their own 38-yard line, the Eagles dropped back in punt formation. They tried to catch the Irish napping and ran the fake, but were stopped for no gain. TCC took over on downs and scored four plays later when quarterback DeShone Kizer found his 6-4, 250 tight end Keith Towbridge in the end zone for a 20-yard scoring play.
With one second left in the half, the momentum switch was complete as the Irish went into the halftime break with a 28-7 lead.
Avon’s offense continued to sputter in the second half, with the Irish scoring again on Jayme Thompson’s 24-yard interception return with 3:32 left in the third quarter. Butler did it to the Eagles moments later, picking off Glenn at the 24-yard line and running to paydirt with 2:46 left on the third quarter clock.
Jacob Suder booted his sixth extra point of the game, and the Irish had completed their 35-0 run. Avon managed to get one more score before the final gun, that coming on a 21-yard run by Douglas with 3:49 left in the game.
Douglas, who will play football for the University of Michigan next year, was held to 72 yards on just 11 carries. Avon managed just over 200 yards of offense with seven first downs, compared to TCC’s 285 yards on the ground alone. The Irish had 19 first downs and 108 yards passing, while their defense chalked up three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
As his team left the field for the final time in 2012, Elder took a moment to reflect on what his players had accomplished.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Elder said. “There are kids walking off this field right now that I’ve had the opportunity to coach over the past four years. That’s special. It’s not about the wins, it’s about the relationships I’ve built with those young men.
“I think what hurts most about this loss is not necessarily the loss itself, but the fact that we don’t get to get together on Monday,” he added.
Elder also said his tream accomplished more than just a winning season, despite Friday night’s final result.
“We graduated a lot of seniors from last year’s team. But these guys worked hard, and they had a dream to get back to the state championship game,” Elder said. “They fell short, but we said at the end of the regular season how proud we were of them. That’s because they learned everything they needed to learn from the game of football.
“Everything was gravy from that point on. We got three extra weeks together. I wish it would have been four,” he added.
(To view David Richard's photos of this game, go to DavidRichardPhoto.com