When teams game plan for Avon’s potent offense, they must make a choice.
Most teams don’t have the personnel to devote extra players to the secondary to limit the Eagles’ passing game and stop the run, as evidenced by Avon’s convincing 38-14 opening-round playoff win over Toledo St. Francis de Sales. The Knights limited Avon’s passing game to a relatively modest evening, but were run over by Gerett Choat and the rushing game to the tune of 178 yards and four touchdowns.
Perrysburg, with a talented secondary, likely will try the opposite tonight when the Yellow Jackets take on the Eagles in Huron in a Division II, Region 4 semifinal: Play man-to-man in the secondary on the Eagles’ talented corps of receivers and attempt to shut down Choat.
That’s music to the ears of senior wideouts Rhys Ratino and Braeden Friss, who could be twins: They walk the same. They talk the same. They wear consecutive numbers, 10 and 11. They’re just about equal in size. And, most importantly for Avon, they’re both excellent receivers in an offense that depends on precision, timing and their talent.
“We’ll see what happens,” Avon coach Mike Elder said. “I think (Perrysburg) is going to play a lot of man to man and challenge us, but I like our receivers and I think we can get some separation against them if they play all man.”
Separation separates the duo. Friss (listed at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds) and Ratino (6-0, 165), are not Calvin Johnson-like, physical freaks of nature. When they got to the big field and the varsity program as sophomores, they weren’t terribly polished players.
But two years later, they’ll be starting their 25th games together Friday, experience that is reserved for only the best of the best in an Avon program that, as Elder said last week, most often replaces seniors with seniors.
This season, Friss has caught 64 passes for 945 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Ratino has 40 catches for 622 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“I’m proud of those guys because they dedicated themselves to Avon football year round and made themselves better in the offseason,” Elder said. “They’re team captains, and you don’t get there by just being good players. You have to do the right things academically, athletically and socially. They’re intelligent and coachable.”
In their own words
Given their similarities, why not let each player to describe what the other does well? They’ve been teammates for years and are well-versed in each other’s abilities.
“He’s not the biggest or the fastest, but his route running is awesome,” Ratino said of his buddy. “He’s the best on the team for sure. He makes plays, too. If the ball is thrown to him, it’s not going to hit the ground. He’s going to make a play.”
Friss on Ratino: “He’s very explosive off the ball, and he has great ability to make a play with the ball in his hands, once he’s caught it. He’s very emotionally attached, too. He takes this personal and that’s helped him have success.”
The stat sheet, meanwhile, impressive and indeed indicative of the large impact the duo has had on games, tells only half the story. Friss caught seven passes for 71 yards and a touchdown against St. Francis de Sales, while Ratino was kept off the stat sheet, which reflects, Elder and receivers coach Ryan Magyary said, about 1 percent of Ratino’s impact on the game.
Take Friss’ touchdown, midway through the third quarter, that gave the Eagles a 31-14 lead and all but cemented the victory: Ratino, lined up on the same side as Friss, ran a “mesh” route — in, out and up — and in the process occupied a defender long enough for Friss to easily catch Tommy Glenn’s pass, uncovered.
Had the Knights been in zone, Ratino could have been an option. Instead, against man to man, Friss had about the easiest catch of his career, thanks to Ratino.
Or, take Ratino’s impact in the run game: Choat, a sophomore, ran through big holes for 149 yards, made possible by the Eagles’ offensive line, the heavy attention paid to Friss and Ratino, and Friss and Ratino’s blocking on the edges.
“When they’re not catching the ball, they’re either blocking in the run game or taking attention away from other players and helping them be successful,” Elder said. “We were able to run the ball on Friday and that’s a luxury. (Ratino) especially has a huge role in that run-game success. He’s one of the best blocking wide receivers we’ve had.”
What they’re relied on for most, though, is catching the ball, and each player says the other helps them do it. After all, there’s only so much talent on opponents’ defensive units to go around.
“Opponents try to lock us down,” Friss said, “but that’s more difficult when there are two of us making plays. It’s easier when you have one go-to guy, they can bracket that guy. But when you have a player on each side of the field, it’s tough, especially when Tommy is on and puts the ball where he wants to.”
And if Perrysburg adjusts to take them away, well, that’s just part of the job description: If not catching touchdowns, the duo will block, be a decoy or whatever else it takes to help their teammates have success and put the Eagles into next week’s regional final for the third straight year.
“Our receivers know that any time the ball is thrown to you, if you’re in there, you have to make the catch. They all pride themselves on that,” Magyary said. “But some teams do try to take them away, so we talk about taking what they give us. We’ve won games throwing a lot, we’ve won games running a lot. Last week was a game when our run game was clicking.”