AVON LAKE — Senior tight end Kyle Kuhar felt one distinct emotion as he looked at the scoreboard.
His Avon Lake Shoremen had just suffered a humiliating loss to crosstown rival Avon — a
41-10 drubbing that equaled the margin of defeat Avon handed Avon Lake during Kuhar’s sophomore season … a 38-7 loss to open the 2011 season.
“I was angry,” Kuhar said. “That was not how we wanted to start our season.”
The Shoremen lost two of their first three games in 2011 and failed to qualify for the OHSAA playoffs for the first time in five seasons. They didn’t fall that far this year, qualifying No. 8 in Division II, Region 4, and will face top-seeded Medina Highland at North Royalton High on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Kuhar, who will play for Frank Solich at Ohio University, didn’t want to relive his sophomore season, and was unhappy how his team came out of the gate in this year’s opener.
“We thought we were going to be pretty good and handle them pretty easily,” he said. “Obviously that wasn’t the case. After that game we decided we never wanted to feel like that again and that’s why we stepped things up throughout this whole entire season.”
The Avon offense pushed the Avon Lake defense around. The Eagles threw for 331 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 149.
Avon led 27-3 at halftime and was never challenged in the second half. It opened up a lot of eyes on the Shoremen sideline.
“It was a huge wake-up call,” Kuhar said. “We kind of went in there with big heads and thought we would roll through everyone.
After that we realized we couldn’t walk into every game and completely stomp on every team. We figured out we would have to work hard to get things done.”
That work started the next week, and continued throughout the regular season. The Avon Lake defense didn’t just get better … it became dominant. The numbers bear this out.
Avon scored 41 points on the Shoremen. In the final nine regular-season games, Avon Lake gave up an average of 9.5 points per game. In those nine games, Avon Lake allowed just 627 rushing yards (69.6 yards per game) and 1,222 yards through the air (135.7 yards per game).
“Our pride was hurt a little bit when we gave up that 41 points to Avon,” first-year coach Larry Laird said. “We don’t feel like we played our best and we felt like they played their best. It was a life lesson. We learned from it and moved on. A big thing in football, as in any sport, is you have to have a short memory. Our kids have done a good job of having short memories when negative things have happened.”
Avon Lake defensive coordinator Ed Citro was impressed with how his players responded.
“How you react to a loss like that says a lot about you, and I give it all to these kids,” he said. “They fought back, they wanted to improve, they practiced hard and asked us what they could do to get better. They turned it around themselves with the help of the coaches.”
Citro thinks he knows why the Avon Lake defense took such great pride in responding to that loss, and thinks his team is anxious to secure its place in Avon Lake history.
“The players sense those ghosts of Shoremen past,” Citro said. “They know there have been a lot of good defenses here at Avon Lake, and they want to be one of the best. For them to do that they have to start now … this is where it begins. We can’t look at anything else … we have to take care of this game the best we can and see what happens.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: Division II, Region 4 quarterfinal
WHO: No. 8 Avon Lake vs. No. 1 Highland
WHERE: North Royalton High School
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.