The winner of this game will go on to the last game of the season with a hope of playing in the OHSAA state playoffs, and the loser will be asking, “What if?,” as the North Olmsted Eagles travel to Avon Lake to battle the Shoremen in a key Southwestern Conference showdown Friday night.
Every coach would like for his team to be in the position to control its own playoff destiny.
“We’re playing for our playoff lives every week,” Avon Lake head coach Larry Laird said. “Our playoffs have started already, because if we lose, we’re out. I’m sure North Olmsted feels the same way. We’re in Region 3, and they’re in Region 4, and we’re both in the same situation.”
Laird knows the game will be won in the trenches.
“Whoever controls the line of scrimmage is going to win,” he said. “We feel that we have a defensive front that should control against anybody we play. We have two Division I (college recruits) up front, so we should be able to play pretty well on the defensive line, and that’s going to be the key to victory.
“Offensively, we need to be able to get four to five yards a crack on the run, and be able to throw play-action passes.”
The Avon Lake defense will have to try to coral in North Olmsted quarterback Bradley Novak, who is know to use his lags as much as his arm as weapons.
“He’s a great quarterback,” Avon Lake defensive back Jace Russell said. “Hopefully our defensive ends will keep him from escaping the pocket, and make him throw those short routes.”
“(Novak) has been our most consistent and biggest weapon offensively, but I also like to think that our running back (Ben Kurcsak) is a pretty special kid, too,” North Olmsted head coach Tim Brediger said. “We also have three wide-outs who each have 12-15 catches, which makes us harder to defend.
“Obviously everything we do offensively goes through Brad, but we try not to put all the pressure on him. Every guy on our offensive line is a returning starter, so there are a lot of guys who have played in a lot of big games for us.”
The North Olmsted defense will have to deal with Avon Lake’s multidimensional running attack, which includes tailbacks Wyatt Ohm and Collin Lucas, as well as fullback Sam Klimkowski.
“The thing with Avon Lake every year is that you have to try to stop their running game, but this year, they have a great throwing offense as well,” Brediger said. “Their quarterback (David Winkel) is a dual threat. He can run pretty well.
“They do some interesting zone reads and counter reads, where (Winkel) can keep it and run, but he also throws the ball really well.
Brediger does not plan on changing the defensive mentality of his team just for this game.
“Our mindset is to stop the run, and make them pass,” he said. “That’s what it’s been all year.
“Lucas is not only a great running back, but a great physical athlete as well,” he added. “What we are working on all week is to stay low to try to take him on. Ohm is a pretty good running back as well, so they give you a lot of things to worry about.”
When it comes to the Avon Lake defense, Brediger knows his offensive line will have its hands full.
“Every year, it’s been that way with Avon Lake,” he said. “They are very sound, and well-coached up front with their d-line and linebackers, so they make it very difficult to even thrown the ball. They don’t sit back and not attack you. They put pressure on you every play.
“We try to be as physical as we can. We are going to go out there with our best kids in every spot and not hold anything back. We want to be in the game in the fourth quarter, and that’s all you can ask as a coach.”
The game will be played at Avon Lake High School Memorial Stadium, with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m.