BRECKSVILLE — When you have an ace on your staff, everyone’s job becomes easier. Confidence grows. When you need a win, you can count on him.
Think Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia in this week’s Major League Baseball divisional playoffs. And as he showed Friday night and all season, think Avon Lake’s Jimmy Hessel.
Hessel once again put the Shoremen on his back, dominating the first half and making the biggest catch of the game — a 17-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that halted a Brecksville comeback and propelled Avon Lake to a 31-21 road victory.
Avon Lake, 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the SWC, had fallen a game behind Brecksville with last week’s 28-21 loss to Westlake. All three teams are now 4-1 in the league, with the Bees and Demons playing in Week 10.
“Jimmy was unbelievable,” Avon Lake coach Dave Dlugosz said. “You’re probably looking at the best athlete in the conference. We know that he can pull a play out of a hat if we give him the opportunity to do that.”
Hessel caught 11 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns in the first half — and picked off Miami (Ohio)-bound Brecksville quarterback Tommy Tupa in the end zone to end the half — as the Shoremen sprinted to a 24-7 lead.
Yet the Bees stormed back in the third quarter, scoring twice in seven minutes to cut the lead to 24-21 in a comeback eerily similar to the Shoremen’s Week 3 loss to Massillon Jackson, a game in which Avon Lake lost a 37-13 halftime lead in a 54-47, double-overtime loss.
Tupa amassed 412 yards on 30-of-53 passing against a Shoremen defense missing three starters: linebackers Collin Lucas and Garrett Easterly and defensive back Joe Pappas. (Avon Lake quarterback David Winkel even played in the secondary.) Tupa, who threw a 19-yard score to Tyler Tarnowski in the first half, found his brother, Timmy, for 7- and 16-yard scores on the Bees’ first two drives of the third.
“(The Jackson game) was in our minds then and has been,” Hessel said. “We know that that could not happen again, and that lit a fire underneath us, to stop Brecksville right then and push through.”
Instead of the pass game, Hessel made his mark in the return game in the second half, with 31- and 54-yard kickoff returns to set up Avon Lake inside Brecksville territory. The Shoremen failed to cash in on those, but after Brecksville cut the lead to 24-21, Hessel again found room on a 45-yard return to the 28.
Five plays later, Hessel outleaped two Bees on a third-down play that originally was supposed to be a hitch route to the first-down sticks. Instead, when the defensive back approached the line, the duo made eye contact and changed the route.
“I got it to him a little late, but luckily he’s able to go up and get it. He can catch anything,” said Winkel, who completed 17 of 29 passes for 234 yards and also ran for a score. “He’s a great receiver and defensive back, and he did it on special teams tonight, too.”
And while Tupa racked up the yardage, the Shoremen’s defense didn’t break from there on out. The Bees’ final four possessions ended in a punt, turnover on downs, another Hessel interception and the final whistle. In between, the Shoremen took 7:20 off the clock on a fourth-quarter drive that started with 10:27 left. Wyatt Ohm carried eight times for 33 yards on the drive, and while Avon Lake turned it over on downs, Tupa took over down 10 with 3:07 left. The Shoremen possessed the ball for more than 30 minutes and converted 10 of 14 third-down plays.
“We kept their potent offense off the field. Let’s face it, (Tupa) is a dang good quarterback,” Dlugosz said. “We kept them out of the end zone and kept them uncomfortable.”
EXTRA POINT: The officials had a difficult night, with a hard time figuring out calls and ball placement. But a missed call could have given Brecksville a crucial first down late in the third quarter. After a three-and-out after the Shoremen took a 31-21 lead, Avon Lake clearly had 12 men on the field — as evidenced by Hessel trotting off the field as the punt was kicked toward him. Brecksville coach Jason Black protested loudly, but no call was made.
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.