Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
With the fans on both sides of Avon Lake Memorial Stadium standing in anticipation, quarterback David Winkel took the snap and handed off to running back Collin Lucas.
There was nothing extraordinary about the play. It was a play that had been executed hundreds of times by both Lucas and Winkel throughout their football careers.
But on this night, there was none bigger.
Lucas took the handoff, ran left and sped virtually untouched into the end zone for the touchdown that not only gave Avon Lake a dramatic 23-20 overtime win over North Olmsted, but more than likely preserved the Shoremen's playoff chances.
"Yeah, it was blocked up front pretty well," said Lucas of his big run. "I don't know if I got touched, but that was great. I'm just thankful that we won this game. We were controlling the ball in the first half, but little things were getting at us. We couldn't finish our drives. All the seniors talked in the locker room, and we all just banded together and got excited to come out for the second half.
"Our running game usually works. It's 'just grind 'em,' and that's our motto pretty much."
His feelings as he crossed the goal line for one of the biggest touchdowns of his career?
"I can't even explain it. It was probably one of the best feelings I've ever felt in my life," he added.
Senior Ben Lyons had pulled North Olmsted even at 17-17 with a clutch 34-yard field goal with 3:47 left in the fourth quarter. Mere minutes later, a blocked North Olmsted punt deep in Eagle territory had given Avon Lake a golden opportunity to end the game in regulation.
But even with the ball at the 18-yard line and just 29 seconds left, the Shoremen couldn't capitalize as Alex Voloshen's 35-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
North Olmsted, looking to break a 19-game losing streak against Avon Lake, got the ball first in overtime and moved the ball to the Shoremen 2-yard line. The Eagles, however, had to settle for a 19-yard field goal from Lyons and took a brief 20-17 lead.
Avon Lake, which had run the ball effectively throughout the game, crossed up the North Olmsted defense on its very first play in OT. Winkel, who had been hobbled late in the game with an ankle injury, dropped back and hit fellow senior Max Seipel on the left side to take the ball all the way down to the Eagle 3-yard line.
From there, the tried and true handoff to Lucas finished the job.
"When we went down two scores, I was like 'uh oh,'" said Avon Lake head coach Larry Laird.
"But we talked as a staff, that even if they went down and scored on that opening drive, which they did - they gutted us on the first drive - we were going to stick with our game plan," he said.
Senior running bak Wyatt Ohm was the main weapon in that game plan. He carried the ball 25 times for 177 yards and touchdown runs of one and 20 yards, the latter coming with 8:54 left in the game to give Avon Lake a 17-14 lead. Lucas carried the ball 16 times for 86 yards and his game-winning touchdown.
"We knew that we could move the ball running against them, but they also took that away from us in the fourth quarter," Laird said. "That's why in overtime, they had 10 guys in the box.
"We had to throw the football. I told David take three steps back and just throw it to Max - he'll be wide open. We ran a post corner, and they weren't expecting it. We lined up in what we had been running our counter out of all game long. We hadn't throw out of that formation, so I thought it was the right time.
"It's first down, we're in overtime. Worse case, we throw it away and we're playing second down," he added.
On the other side of the field, North Olmsted head coachTim Brediger talked about his team and the decision to go for the field goal in the overtime period.
"Their kicker, from what we've seen all year, is excellent," he said of Voloshen. "I know he missed one to put us into overtime, but my thought was he's not going to miss another one.
"The other thing was, to run the ball two or three yards against them down there is not a given, obviously. We were having a hard time getting outside with Brad with their contain, and we didn't want to risk not getting any points.
"At least by kicking a field goal, you force them to make a play," he said.
Brad Novak had a solid night for the Eagles, running the ball 27 times for 116 yards and a touchdown. He also threw for 87 yards on a 7-for-16 performance. Ben Kurcsak ran for another 40 yards and a touchdown, that coming just before halftime to give the Eagles a 7-3 lead.
Avon Lake came into the game as the No. 7 team in the latest OHSAA Division II, Region 4 computer poll. With the top eight qualifying for the playoffs, Laird said he and his team were well aware of just how important a win over the Eagles would be.
"We're in a one-and-done situation, Laird said. "Our playoffs have already started.The greatest thing about this game is that we had missed opportunities where I thought we could have had control of the football game in the first half. We had four possessions int he half, and I felt like we should have scored on three of them.
"That's not to take anything away from North Olmsted. That's a quality football program. They're 6-2 coming into this game, and they earned their record. And Novak is every bit as good as advertised," he said.
North Olmsted came into the game with playoff aspirations as well. In their first season in Division II, Region 3, the Eagles were No. 6 and looking to clinch a playoff berth with the computer points a win over the Shoremen would give them.
Now, all they can do is take care of business next week against Olmsted Falls and wait.
"I'm proud of the way we fought," said Brediger after addressing his team in the west end zone.
"To come out here in this environment and play that type of game, our kids played their tails off," he said. "Obviously you want to win, but I'm extremely proud of each and every one of them. We had backups playing and kids who were out, and to take a team like that into overtime, keep fighting and not give up was something.
"We kept our momentum for most of the game. i know they got some momentum here and there, but every time they did, we'd come back and either make some plays defensively or offensively. Every phase of the game had a time where they shined today. Our kicker, he's a soccer kid that we get once a week. He made some great kicks tonight. And our quarterback did one heck of a job.
I can't say enough about our kids, and hats off to Avon Lake. That's hard for me to say, but they're a well-coached team. They fought to the end as well," he added.
(You can follow us on Twitter @BeAFanatic.com. Make sure to like our Facebook page too: BeAFanatic.com.)