Last Friday, according to coach Dave Dlugosz, he had what could have been a “pick-six” slip right through his hands.
With the game, and the season, on the line in the final minute of Friday’s Southwestern Conference game with Brecksville, Russell made sure to take advantage of his second chance.
With one interception earlier in the fourth quarter, Russell reached up and snagged a Tom Tupa Jr. pass at his own 3-yard-line, preserving Avon Lake’s come-from-behind 17-14 victory in the Shoremen’s last home game at Avon Lake Memorial Stadium.
“Our secondary has had a propensity for giving up big, long plays, and they gave up their fair share of those today,” Dlugosz said. “As much heat as our secondary has had to take all this year, to have them stand up in the second half like they did today, I’m so proud of them.”
Russell returned the interception 97 yards for an apparent touchdown, but it was called back on a holding penalty during the return. It was moot when Chris Jedlicka took a knee on the snap, melting the final 31 seconds off of the clock and improving Avon Lake to 6-2, 5-0 in the SWC.
“It was a good feeling to end our career here at Avon Lake Memorial Stadium like that, with a huge win and to finish undefeated at home,” Russell said. “When you see those balls go up, we wanted to be aggressive and go after them. That’s what happened on both of those picks.”
The pick thwarted what was looking like a final scoring march for Tupa and his Bees (4-4, 3-2).
Tupa, in his first action since injuring his non-throwing shoulder back in Week 2, had led the Bees on a 12-play, 55-yard drive that began with 4:36 remaining. They converted two third downs and had first-and-10 on the Avon Lake 14 following a pass interference penalty.
Following a 6-yard completion to Tim Tupa, Brecksville took a timeout with 51 seconds remaining and the ball resting on the 9. That’s when Russell flipped the script on Tupa.
“There’s no point where you feel relaxed on the sideline with Tupa in there, that’s for darn sure,” Dlugosz said. “For (Russell) to make a play like that, make a good drop and catch the ball, is fantastic. It’s just too bad he didn’t get the touchdown out of it.”
Tupa threw for 206 yards on 13 of 23 passes with a touchdown. But his three interceptions played a big part in Avon Lake’s ability to rally from a 14-0 second-quarter deficit.
The first one may have been the play that changed the momentum to Avon Lake’s corner. Facing a third-and-18 from his own 32, Tupa was flushed from the pocket by Jake Young and Nick Stueber toward his own end zone. Before he was sacked, Tupa tried a shovel pass that went straight into the arms of sophomore defensive end Kyle Kuhar, who jogged 11 yards for a touchdown with 5:24 left in the second quarter.
“I don’t know where he was throwing it to,” said Kuhar, who hadn’t had an interception all year, let alone a defensive touchdown. “I saw they were about to sack him, and he just flipped it to me. I’m just glad I didn’t drop it.”
GROUND ATTACK: While Brecksville’s aerial attack was on display Friday night, the Shoremen got the job done with the running game. Senior Dontez Smith led the way with 72 yards on 22 carries, while Collin Lucas chipped in with 66 yards on 13 carries.