By Dan Gilles
After scoring touchdowns on all seven of its first half possessions to open up a 49-7 halftime lead, it seemed a virtual certainty that Avon was going to win its final home game of the regular season.
In the second half, though, the Eagles let their foot off the gas and the visiting Pirates made things a little too interesting for the Avon faithful. A 28-point fourth quarter – all on touchdown passes from junior Matt Lowry – made the final score 56-41 in favor of the Eagles at Avon Stadium. However, the mood from the two teams was very different.
Whereas Avon (8-0, 5-0) outgained Rocky River 427-192 in the first half, the Pirates (3-5, 1-4) took advantage of the Eagle backups and outgained the hosts, 359-67, in the second half, outscoring them 35-7.
Needless to say, Avon coach Mike Elder was not a happy camper following the game.
“I learned a valuable lesson tonight,” Elder said. “I pulled my starters way too early against a good football team. They came back on our ‘2s,’ and our ‘2s’ got to play better. I thought Rocky River had a great offensive performance in the second half – so good, that I would vote for all those kids first-team all-conference.
“The lesson is that I have to let my team play the football game, and I didn’t. I pulled all my kids out of there, and I should not have done that. I own this right now. I let a team that had players get back in the game because I was trying to be a good sport.”
The Rocky River defense could not stop the Avon starters. In nine offensive possessions – including two during the fourth quarter – the Avon starters scored 56 points on eight touchdowns. The other possession was the last one of the game where the Eagles ran the clock out. Avon didn’t punt until the backups went three-and-out with three-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter.
“We had 49 in the first half and we probably could have scored 100 if I let the starters play the whole game,” Elder said. “But we chose not to, and I learned a lesson because their coach kept their kids playing. And, in all honesty, that’s a credit to them. They did a great job. I’m upset with myself.
“I screwed this up for my kids and I allowed this football team to get back in the game, and that was unfortunate.”
Avon senior quarterback Tommy Glenn had his second-biggest night of the season, throwing for 318 yards while completing 17 of 19 passes with four touchdowns. He was 15-for-17 for 298 yards with three touchdowns in the dominating first half, reentering after Rocky River cut the deficit to 49-27.
Glenn had three 100-yard receivers in seniors Braeden Friss (seven catches for 129 yards and two scores) and Rhys Ratino (seven catches for 120 yards and three scores) and sophomore Gerett Choat (two catches for 102 yards). One of Friss’ TD passes came from sophomore backup Jake Sopko, who threw for 77 yards on a 3-for-7 performance.
“I thought the offense played pretty well,” Glenn said. “I thought our protection was excellent by the offensive line and I thought our receivers made a lot of great plays and it was easy for me.”
The defense forced two quick Rocky River turnovers in the first quarter, which Glenn and Co. quickly turned into scores to give the Eagles a 21-0 lead. From there, it was off to the races … until the fourth quarter.
“Our defense started off playing really well and shut them down, which gave us great field position,” Glenn said. “We were able to put up a lot of points on the board. It was a great start, but a bad finish.”
Trailing by 42, Rocky River slowly but surely got back into the game. A methodic 14-play, 78-yard opening drive in the second half led to a five-yard touchdown run by Travis Smith, cutting the deficit to 49-13. Then things got really whacky in the fourth quarter.
“There’s no 42-point play, but there was a lot of effort, and that’s all we wanted was effort in the second half,” Rocky River coach Rick Adams said. “Our kids didn’t quit, and that’s a testament to their character. I can’t be more proud of these guys.”
“We forced them to keep their No. 1s out there when I’m sure they were hoping to give some of their reserves more experience. Hey, we didn’t quit, and I’m so proud of our guys.”
Lowry, a St. Edward transfer, threw for 313 yards on 13 of 23 passes with four touchdowns and added 143 more on the ground on 19 carries with a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, Lowry went 7-for-9 for 227 yards and all four TD passes.
He fired touchdowns of 45 and 73 yards to Patrick Connors to cut the deficit to 49-27 with 7:04 left. Then, holding the ball from the 6:09 mark to the 1:23 mark thanks to a successful onside kick, Lowry put up two unanswered touchdowns to cut the deficit to 56-41.
“He’s a special player,” Adams said. “You can’t say enough about him. I wish I could say I drew up all those plays that he does. But he makes a bad play into a good play. Fortunately, he’s on my side. He’s a great kid and he’s probably the hardest worker on our team, as far as the offseason weight room, conditioning, all that stuff. It’s paying off for him.
“He just does a great job, and the kids feed off that. They know we’re never out of it whenever he’s out there.”
The two teams combined for 19 penalties for 211 yards, with Avon committing 10 of them for 106. In fact, Avon’s final possession of the game began with three straight unsportsmanlike conduct penalties – two on Rocky River. It was a bad sign when Rocky River committed fair-catch interference on the opening kickoff and it progressively got worse.
Before the game, outgoing Avon mayor Jim Smith was honored for his 20 years of service to the community and was given his own personalized Avon football jersey with the No. 1. At halftime, Ryan Benes was honored by Avon for being a longtime contributor to the football program.