By Jim Horvath
Through the better part of three quarters, all that stood between state-ranked Avon and host Fairview was a 1-yard touchdown run by Eagle running back Mark Holkenborg.
That score came all the way back in the first drive of the game. From that point on, the defenses – thanks in part to a ton of penalties – dominated the action. But Avon managed to score a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to get the win, 20-7, and clinch a share of the West Shore Conference championship.
The Eagles, still unbeaten at 9-0, capped a 79-yard drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Cody Schroeder to Matt Eckhardt with 8:52 left in the game. But the upstart Warriors, who entered the game with a four-game winning streak, answered after Jason Kish recovered a fumble at the Avon 10.
Two plays later, John Doherty took in in on a 4-yard sweep, and it was 14-7 with 3:44 left in the game.
The Warrior defense made a play for a 2-yard loss, the Schroeder found Kevin Krakora deep down the Avon sideline for a 67-yard touchdown with 3:01 remaining.
“We completely expected a battle coming in here today,” said Avon head coach Mike Elder. “Fairview is a very physical team, and they had a great game plan. They put themselves in a position to win this game, but we were able to make some big plays and overcome those turnovers.
“When you make as many turnovers (four) as we did tonight, you don’t usually come out a winner,” Elder said. “But we’re going to face adversity like this in the playoffs. Those games of scoring 50 points on teams are over.
“Defense wins championships, and I think that showed tonight,” he added.
Late in the second quarter, Fairview let a golden opportunity slip through its fingers. Brett Willgren intercepted a Schroeder pass and returned it all the way to the Eagles’ 8-yard line with 2:26 left in the half. But an unsportsmanlike cal, topped off with a holding call on the next play, put the ball back to the 33-yard line.
Sean Dobrzeniecki, who set a school record with his 45-yard field goal against Bay, fell just short on a 45-yarder in the final seconds of the half. After that, the Warrior offense “shot itself in the foot” with penalties, according to Warrior head coach Dave Latkovic.
“I thought we were able to run the ball against them, but all those penalties just slowed us down,” Latkovic said. “We just couldn’t get into any kind of offensive flow because we were shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties.
“I f you want to pull off the upset, you can’t make that many mistakes, I don’t care if it’s penalties or turnovers. But we’ve got mentally tough kids here, probably the most mentally tough kids I’ve ever coached. These kids have been run through the mill, but keep bouncing back.
“We’ve faced adversity all year. We’ll bounce back again and be ready for Rocky River next week. We have a chance to finish 6-4, and that hasn’t happened here in a long, long time,” he added.
While Fairview travels to River to close out the season, Avon will host Bay in an attempt to finsih the season at 10-0 and nail down the No. 1 spot in Division II, Region 6.
“All we’re thinking about right now is Week 10,” said Elder. ” We’ll treat that game as a playoff game. We want to get the outright title and take it from there, because we can’t afford to overlook Bay.”