AVON LAKE — The best thing to happen to Avon Lake on Friday night was Olmsted Falls kicker Chris Fox booting a 29-yard field goal with 2:22 left in the third quarter.
Three points, after a drop in the end zone halted the Bulldogs’ growing momentum, turned out to be the opening the Shoremen needed to avoid a disastrous upset and keep alive their Southwestern Conference title and Division I, Region 2 playoff hopes.
After the teams traded punts, Avon Lake marched 80 yards in nine plays for what turned out to be the winning score, and standout Jimmy Hessel sealed a 21-17 victory with two late interceptions. The Shoremen (7-2) remained tied for the SWC lead with Westlake and Brecksville at 5-1; those teams will play next week at Brecksville.
“Olmsted Falls definitely stepped their game up, so you have to give them credit,” said Hessel, who has eight interceptions “We also came out slow. For some reason, we like to get in these gut-wrenching games. Luckily, this one worked out for us.”
The Bulldogs (1-8, 1-5 SWC) earned their first win of the season last week against Amherst, a game in which Mike Gibb — a converted wide receiver, as Olmsted Falls has been beset by injuries — rushed for 307 yards on a school-record 50 carries.
On Friday, Gibb was back at it, gaining 224 yards on 29 carries and scoring two touchdowns. His presence enabled Olmsted Falls to control the ball — the Bulldogs possessed it for 15 minutes in the first half and were tied at 7 at halftime.
Each team scored on its opening possession of the game, Avon Lake on Hessel’s 13-yard run and the Bulldogs on a 4-yard run by Gibb, the latter capping a 12-play drive that took 6:17. The teams did little else in the half until the Shoremen got the ball back with 40 seconds left and moved inside the Bulldog 10. Gibb, though, broke up a potential touchdown to Matt Morrissette and Alex Voloshen’s 28-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Turner Jones.
“We asked our players to define a trap game, and they learned today,” Avon Lake coach Dave Dlugosz said. “Olmsted Falls played really well, but defensively, especially in the first half, we had some soft spots. It happens sometimes. You can’t play 10 games of perfection. It never happens.”
The Bulldogs didn’t attempt a pass in the first half, but hit big on their opening drive of the second, as Jones got behind Hessel and caught a 36-yard pass. On the next play, Gibb ran 41 yards for the go-ahead score. The Shoremen answered with a 43-yard touchdown pass from David Winkel to tight end Kyle Kuhar, but Olmsted Falls marched again.
Gibb had consecutive runs of 20 and 19 yards to move the Bulldogs to the Avon Lake 11, and Olmsted Falls coach Jim Ryan called a perfect play: a play-action fake to the fullback, who then slipped out for a pass from Drew Meketa. One problem: He dropped it, and Olmsted Falls settled for three.
After each team punted, Shoremen running back Wyatt Ohm — who gained 160 yards overall — ran five times for 58 yards, the final 2 of which gave Avon Lake the final margin. Hessel picked off Meketa on the next play and again later at the Shoremen 20 to end another Bulldog drive.
“Every week, we’ve fought like crazy no matter the record,” Ryan said. “We knew Avon Lake had a nice football team, but our guys have a lot of pride. We wanted to come over and try to grab one from them. It’s a credit to Avon Lake to hang in there and win the game there. Those turnovers really did us in there.”
EXTRA POINT: The Shoremen dropped three passes in the second half, two of which could have been long touchdowns. So late in the half, before Avon Lake drove inside Olmsted Falls’ 10 only to have a field goal at the horn blocked, the receivers removed their gloves, and quarterback David Winkel removed the long-sleeve shirt he wore under his pads.
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.