FREMONT — Statistically speaking, Tiffin Columbian appeared to dominate Friday night’s Division II, Region 6 semifinal with Avon at Harmon Field at Don Paul Stadium.
The top-seeded Tornadoes had more rushing (170-69), passing (193-140) and total yards (363-209), and more than double the first downs (20-8) of the fourth-seeded Eagles.
But the Eagles came up with four turnovers — three fumbles and an interception — that thwarted Tiffin Columbian and directly led to their 24-14 victory.
“All week, I talked about turnovers being the key to the game,” Tiffin Columbian coach Brian Colatruglio said. “They made two or three good plays and a couple big fourth-down conversions, and we kept turning it over inside their territory.
“That’s the story of the game right there.”
It was one player — junior linebacker Kevin Maloney — that seemed to be at the right place at the right time.
“Our defense just had a great gameplan,” Maloney said. “All week long, our coaches made sure we had a great gameplan and they prepared us really well.”
Maloney’s interception early in the second quarter and subsequent 39-yard return helped flip the field from the Avon 35-yard line to the Tiffin 35, and set up the Eagles’ first touchdown of the game — a 9-yard run on fourth down from senior quarterback David Zeh.
“We ran that play yesterday in practice,” Maloney said. “I got there and had the ball but it just fell right out of my hands. I told myself that if I see that play again, I’ve got to get it. I just had to do my best and do whatever I could with it.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Avon junior Ryan Steinmetz stripped the ball from kick returner Jordan Dye, and Maloney pounced on the ball at the Tiffin 22. Four plays later, Ross Douglas scored from 8 yards out to give Avon a 17-0 lead.
“You’ve got to hand it to the team,” Maloney said. “The balls would have never gotten on the ground if it wasn’t for Ryan Steinmetz, Cory Ohradzansky and Mitch Tomlin causing them. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Early in the third quarter, with Tiffin driving in Avon territory, it was Maloney’s turn to force a ball to the ground. On a first down run from the Avon 25, quarterback Jack Jacoby, who wound up with 90 yards on 24 carries, was hit solidly by Maloney and fumbled, and Avon’s Antonio Orr came up with the recovery.
But Maloney saved his best defensive play for last.
With Avon clinging to a 17-7 lead, the Tornadoes put together another drive that took them into Avon territory. On a first-and-10 from Avon 35, Dye got behind Maloney and hauled in a long pass. Maloney caught Dye at the 10, pulled the ball out of the Tiffin Columbian player’s hands and raced in the other direction past the stunned Tornadoes.
A penalty wiped out a 31-yard return, but the turnover set up Avon’s biggest play of the game — a 76-yard pass from Zeh to sophomore tight end Chris Maxwell to the Tiffin 2 — which was followed by a short touchdown that put the game away.
“Actually, I made a bad play on that one and their quarterback made a good read,” Maloney said. “Fortunately, I got back in position and I was able get a good play on the ball and come up with it.
“I don’t really think when I have the ball in my hands. I just try to run as fast as I can and as far as I can.”
Elder gave Maloney the lion’s share of the credit.
“Kevin Maloney played his tail off tonight,” Elder said. “He’s only a junior, and I think this kid is special. If you look at his body type, he looks like an outside linebacker at the college level. He’s a smart football player.
“He’s extremely humble. He’s the type of kid you’d want your daughter to date. I have a daughter, and don’t want her to date anybody. But if she had to date somebody, I’d want it to be a kid like Kevin Maloney.”
Avon never turned the ball over. Tiffin Columbian managed to recover an onside kick after it had scored with 55 seconds left in the game.
“They say defense wins championships and offense sells tickets,” Elder said. “We did just enough on offense to get by, but our defense was outstanding tonight. Our whole defensive staff does a great job of emphasizing ripping at the football, trying to get it out and creating turnovers. I said whoever would win the turnover battle would win the game, and we certainly did.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.