PARMA — When Avon is looking for MVP candidates for this year’s postseason, the obvious names are going to pop up.
Senior quarterback Justin O’Rourke, senior wide receiver Matt Eckhardt and junior running back Ross Douglas are all near the top of the list.
But those guys have been putting up big numbers for the Eagles all season long.
The player who could slide into the discussion, who has come up with huge plays — on both sides of the ball — to help Avon advance further than it ever has before … is junior Ralph Smith.
A week after a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions helped the Eagles down Tiffin Columbian in the regional championship, Smith hauled in a spectacular 40-yard touchdown pass late in the first half of Avon’s 43-20 victory over Aurora in a Division II state semifinal.
With the Eagles up 10-7 and a minute left in the second quarter, O’Rourke lofted a long bomb down the left sideline. The pass fell over the shoulder of Smith, who had to leap out of the grasp of an Aurora cornerback before sprinting the final 10 yards for the score.
“Me and J.O. (O’Rourke) talked about it before the game — the same play — we talked about it,” Smith said. “They had me one-on-one (man coverage) on the backside, he threw it to me and it was there.
“It was good defense, I’ll give that to them. But I got loose and got into the end zone.”
The play doubled Smith’s touchdown catches for the season. The picks in the regional final doubled his interception total for the season.
Before Friday night’s game at Byers Field, Smith had hauled in 17 receptions for 250 yards and a touchdown. On defense, he had 50 tackles, and led the team with four interceptions and seven pass defenses.
“I don’t know why he hasn’t gotten more involved in the offense this year,” O’Rourke said. “Ralph is a great player and he’s been playing football since his freshman year. He’s a great receiver and he runs great routes.
“He’s playing very well on both sides of the ball.”
Smith, who has also been used sparingly as a running back and on kickoff and punt returns, caught three passes for 56 yards and one touchdown against the Greenmen on Friday night. Only Eckhardt’s eight catches and Jacob Mullins’ four — both players also caught touchdowns — bettered Smith’s production.
“Everyone talks about Matt Eckhardt — and they should — he has the best stats, and Jacob Mullins has some really good stats,” Eagles coach Mike Elder said. “Ralph’s a really good athlete — he’s a Division I type talent. He hasn’t got much attention because of the stuff Jacob Mullins and Matt Eckhardt did.
“But Ralph Smith can make plays.”
Elder didn’t need to witness the amazing touchdown catch to be able to make that statement. He said he expected the performance from Smith before the teams took the field.
“I told him before the game, I said, ‘Ralph, you’re going to make a big play for us,’ and boy did he go up and get one,” Elder said. “That was a great catch, they had good coverage on that. He just made a play.”
Now, Smith wants to make a play or two next Friday when the Eagles meet Trotwood-Madison for the Division II state championship.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “Let’s go get the W.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.