Highland's Ryan Frederick holds the ball up after making a catch over Avons Alex Waters on a 3rd and 16 play in the third quarter. Aaron Josefczyk/Gazette Photo
STRONGSVILLE — For the better part of the season, the Highland football team enjoyed an efficient offense that did pretty much whatever it wanted.
On Friday, the fourth-seeded Hornets met the wall that ended their season in a 28-10 Division II, Region 6 loss to top-seeded Avon.
The Eagles (12-0) will play third-seeded Olmsted Falls (11-1) at a site to be determined. It’s a Week 2 rematch won by Avon 31-7.
“They were a disciplined defense,” Highland coach Mike Gibbons said. “That kind of hurt them. We were giving them some wrong keys, some pullers and sending Jake (Rogers) the other way. Their linebackers were reading the line and going the other way, but that second half they were flying to him.”
Led by Mark Steinmetz (7 tackles), Joey Lance (6) and Alex Waters (6), the Eagles stymied the Hornets to turn a 10-7 halftime deficit into a decided victory complete with a second-half fumble recovery and interception.
Highland (9-3) got the better of Avon in the first half, bending when the Eagles were in the red zone — the Eagles ran 13 plays inside the Hornets 50 — but never breaking.
In the second half, Avon stepped up and held Highland to 89 yards and shut down Rogers.
The junior had a good stat line with four catches for 63 yards and 83 yards rushing and a touchdown on 23 carries. But the Eagles stuffed him for minus-10 yards rushing after intermission.
“They’re really good,” Rogers said. “They clearly made adjustments at halftime. They bumped in their linebacker on power reads to take me away. They were blitzing and couldn’t pick it up. Hats off to them. They’re a great team.”
Down 14-10 entering the fourth quarter, the Hornets looked like they were going to make things even more interesting, but Matthew Earnest (12-for-19, 174 yards, INT) fumbled on the first snap and Chris Mullins recovered on the Avon 46-yard line.
That set up the turning point, as Highland appeared to have the Eagles stopped on third down.
Quarterback Ryan Maloy avoided a heavy rush and looked to be short on a run, but the Hornets were flagged for tripping, giving Avon a first down on the Highland 27.
Three plays later, Nick Perusek (11 carries, 49 yards) scored his second touchdown of the half and pushed the lead to 21-10.
“It was a huge play. Unfortunatelym, it wasn’t in our favor,” said Highland linebacker Ethan Gerding, who led all players with 10 tackles. “Whether or not it was a real trip, this team has to be smarter than that. Even if the penalties are real or fake, we can’t let them be in the vicinity. That was a real pickup for them and really stopped us in our rhythm.
“It swung momentum a good deal. We shouldn’t have let it swing as much as we did. It was still a playable game and we still could have definitely come back, but we just didn’t bounce back the way we should have and that part is on us.”
Avon leading rusher Tony Eberhardt was out with mononucleosis, but Perusek and Maloy (9 carries, 25 yards, TD, 19-for-25, 176 yards) made up for his loss and Mullins (8 catches, 99 yards) and David Orlando (7, 60) kept Highland honest.
“Props to them,” Earnest said. “That was a helluva game.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Avon 28, Highland 10
Division II, Region 6 semifinal
HIGHLAND 7 3 0 0 — 10
AVON 7 0 7 14 — 28
H — Jake Rogers 1 run (Evan Shelton kick), 2:06.
A — Mark Steinmetz 1 run (David Orlando kick), 0:54.
H — Shelton 21 field goal, 8:44.
A — Nick Perusek 5 run (Orlando kick), 1:04.
A — Perusek 2 run (Orlando kick), 9:51.
A — Ryan Malloy 5 run (Orlando kick), 6:25.
First downs 14 17
Rushing 36/100 39/131
Rushing average 2.8 3.4
Passing 12/19 19/25
Passing yards 174 176
Total offense 55/274 64/307
Punting 3/38.3 5/38.0
Penalties 6/65 2/31.5
Fumbles 1/1 0/0
RUSHING: Highland — Rogers 23-83, Evan Kasulones 4-19, Matthew Earnest, 9-(-2). Avon — Perusek 11-49, Aaron Endrizal 12-43, Maloy 9-25, Steinmetz 4-16, Danny Zak 1-0, Carson Gosselin 2-(-2).
PASSING: Highland — Earnest 12-19-174-1. Avon — Maloy 19-25-176-0.
RECEIVING: Highland — Ryan Frederick 4-89, Rogers 4-63, Kasulones 2-17, Jake Sir Louis 2-5. Avon — Chris Mullins 8-99, Orlando 7-60, Tommy Purcell 2-15, Matt Kennedy 2-2.