FREMONT — If there were any secrets about how potent Avon’s passing game has been this season, Justin O’Rourke and Co. exposed them in the Eagles’ first two playoff wins.
Ten passing touchdowns. Nearly 700 yards and a 70 percent completion rate.
Tiffin Columbian, then, did the logical thing in the teams’ Division II, Region 6 final at Don Paul Stadium Friday night: Take away the pass.
And it worked, as O’Rourke, the Eagles’ proficient senior quarterback, completed only 5 of 9 passes for 83 yards. Wide receiver Matt Eckhardt — he of the 18 touchdowns entering the game — caught one pass, a 5-yarder.
A winning formula, right?
The Eagles’ offensive line — missing two starters — and running back Ross Douglas took the challenge and ran with it, to the tune of 271 yards and five touchdowns in the Eagles’ 35-21 victory that pushed Avon into a state semifinal next week against Aurora.
“We talked about it before the game: (Columbian) drops eight into coverage, unlike a lot of teams we saw who want to blitz you,” Avon coach Mike Elder said. “We told them all week, we’re going to have to run the football well to win this game.
“These guys accepted the challenge and played great. It was a lot of fun to watch those guys run the ball so well because we take pride in that.”
With junior starters Jeremiah Burriss and Tim Von Salter out due to injuries, senior left guard Scott Stefan and junior right tackle Alex Cranmer — who had rotated in all season, but saw their most extensive action of the season Friday — filled in capably. The seven-man unit has a saying — mass kicks a word that rhymes with mass — and they showed it against the Tornadoes.
It started on the first drive, as the Eagles, going into a stiff headwind, ran on five of six plays. Douglas — who led the way with 157 yards on 20 carries — capped that run with a 39-yard score.
“We knew they’d play the pass,” said Ryan Byrne, the Eagles’ 6-foot-3, 300-pound right guard. “We’ve had great success passing the ball and spreading opponents out a little bit. That’s what they did, and we ran it down their throats.”
Yet the Tornadoes continued to drop their linebackers, allowing the Eagles to succeed on the ground. Douglas scored early in the second quarter to make it 14-0, and after Columbian cut the lead in half, Austin Bevins got in on the act scoring from 2 yards with 1:37 left in the half.
Later, after Columbian seized the momentum, the Eagles’ run game bounced back — first on a key 41-yard Eckhardt run with the scored tied at 21 early in the fourth, and later, with under two minutes left, on Douglas’ 40-yard score that iced the game.
The Eagles’ 271 rushing yards easily eclipsed their season average of 167.
“It definitely seemed like they were worried about Eckhardt (in the pass game),” Cranmer said. “We figured we could run the ball with them playing defense that way. We performed well.”
Cranmer and Stefan said there were few adjustments to be made — and little pressure to be felt — when the duo stepped in, since the group has a familiarity with each other. Byrne agreed, saying “there is some newness, but we’re all comfortable with each other.”
For the Tornadoes, it was a matter of picking one thing to stop, coach Brian Colatruglio said after his team lost in the regional final for the second straight year. Last year it was in Division III to Columbus Bishop Watterson.
“We were hoping they couldn’t run the ball like that, but we had a feeling they’d try to,” Colatruglio said. “They had a big offensive line. We had a feeling they were going to try to test us. Not many teams have run on us like that all year. They came out and were physical.”
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or email@example.com.