BRUNSWICK - Take away all those blowouts, all those offensive assaults, all the yardage compiled by running backs Mike Haddad and Jeff Tell, and the Avon Lake Shoremen were a team built on defense.
It was their foundation - the bricks and mortar of state-title dreams.
But when the time came for the Shoremen to make one last defining stop - faced by an opponent unfazed by their maroon and yellow jerseys - that vaunted defense finally buckled.
The Ashland Arrows, led by senior quarterback Taylor Housewright, punctured the Avon Lake secondary and capitalized on every one of the Shoremen`s many miscues, pulling off a 21-14 victory on a cold, rainy Friday evening in the Division II, Region 6 semifinals at Judy Kirsch Field.
Ashland (11-1) will face Sylvania Southview in the regional championship next Friday.
"The hardest thing about this is not the loss," Avon Lake coach Dave Dlugosz said.
"The hardest part is we`re going to come to practice on Monday packing gear instead of having more fun for another week. That`s difficult."
For the first time this season, Avon Lake`s (11-1) powerful engine came to a halt. But it couldn`t be called an upset. Not with a quarterback of Housewright`s talent leading the opposition.
Housewright completed 16 of 26 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown, while running the ball 22 times for 79 yards and two scores. With Friday`s game, he pushed his season passing total over 3,000 yards.
Housewright wasn`t at his best, he said. He threw two interceptions and, by his estimation, was not nearly as efficient as expected. But until Shane Kipp took a handoff with 2:42 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, every inch of Ashland`s offensive production came as a result of his arm and legs.
"He`s the best quarterback I`ve ever played against," said Haddad, Avon Lake senior fullback and linebacker. "He`s just a great game manager. Anyone that can run and throw the ball as consistently as he can -- wow."
Avon Lake, which had trailed for all but the opening minutes of the first quarter, rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the final minutes of regulation. But trailing 21-7 with 5:21 remaining, the Shoremen could not stop Housewright from advancing the chains.
Faced with a third-and-8, Housewright eluded two defenders, then found his favorite wide receiver, Tyler McFarlin, diving over the middle for 13 yards.
It was like watching the same replay looped in succession.
Ashland jumped on Avon Lake with its quick-strike aerial attack, spreading the field with five sleek wide receivers. Avon Lake, which throughout the season has faced run-based opponents almost exclusively out of the Southwestern Conference, was stunned by the assault.
Housewright spread the ball evenly across the field - firing his passes crisply, anticipating his receivers` patterns before the Shoremen defenders could apply pressure.
Early in the fourth quarter, Avon Lake junior defensive end Zach Murray exploded off the right edge and closed in on Housewright. However, Ashland`s quarterback spun, eluded Murray`s grasp, then drifted away for several more seconds - buying his receivers time, avoiding the pressure - then fired a bullet to McFarlin for 33 yards down the right sideline.
Murray`s shoulders slunk as he returned to the huddle. Five plays later, Housewright`s dive into the end zone gave the Arrows a two touchdown lead.
"All year long, we`ve done a great job of limiting big plays," Haddad said. "But we couldn`t tonight. That was the difference."
Avon Lake was equally derailed by its own errors. All 21 of Ashland`s points came on touchdowns scored off turnovers. The Shoremen had three interceptions and five fumbles.
The Shoremen were also whistled for several key penalties in the first quarter that would come back to haunt them. On the Arrows` second drive of the night, Avon Lake was called for two late hits on Housewright, which accounted for 30 extra yards, leading to a 1-yard dive by the quarterback into the end zone.
Shoremen quarterback Nick Firment was short on his first pass attempt of the evening, severely underthrowing wide receiver Ryan Scherer and was picked off by McFarlin, who was playing free safety.
Housewright, working out of the shotgun on the majority of his snaps, promptly fired four completions, the last of which was a 39-yard beam that landed in the diving hands of Kipp for a 14-0 lead.
Avon Lake countered by aggressively attacking Ashland`s skill players. Housewright was hounded by the Shoremen`s dizzying blitz schemes, resulting in four sacks. His receivers, hit hard at the line of scrimmage, were popped on several plays.
Logan Kerr, a senior wideout, came over the middle for a Housewright pass over his right shoulder. Kerr leaped, gripped his hands on the ball, and was suddenly blindsided by Scherer at safety.
"Avon Lake is a great team and they did some stuff we didn`t see on film," Housewright said. "They did a great job of hiding coverages."
Avon Lake slowly climbed back in the game by denying Housewright the football. The Shoremen`s prolific backfield tandem of Jeff Tell and Mike Haddad combined for 49 carries and 264 yards, accounting for more than 86 percent of Avon Lake`s 305 total yardage.
But a season of perfection was finally snapped short.
"It doesn`t have to be pretty," Ashland coach Scott Valentine said. "Just as long as you`ve got one more point than the other guy."
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ASHLAND 7, AVON LAKE 0. Taylor Housewright 5 run (Gregg Berkshire kick) 5:41. DRIVE: 8 plays, 71 yards. TIME OF POSSESSION: 3:58. KEY PLAYS: Personal foul and roughing the passer penalties on Avon Lake gave Ashland two first downs. Housewright completed five straight passes.
ASHLAND 14, AVON LAKE 0. Shane Kipp 39 pass from Housewright (Berkshire kick) 1:59. DRIVE: 8 plays, 71 yards. TIME OF POSSESSION: 3:58. KEY PLAYS: Tyler McFarlin intercepts Nick Firment`s pass at A-24 yard line. Housewright 15-yard gain on quarterback draw to start drive and 14-yard completion to Nate Cooper on second play.
ASHLAND 14, AVON LAKE 7. Mike Haddad 1 run (Joe Prendergast kick) 5:05. DRIVE: 6 plays, 17 yards. TIME OF POSSESSION: 4:04. KEY PLAYS: After Avon Lake defense stops Ashland inside 5-yard line, Steve Mares sets up drive with 16-yard punt return to A-18 yard line.
ASHLAND 21, AVON LAKE 7. Housewright 1 run (Berkshire kick) 10:56. DRIVE: 9 plays, 67 yards. TIME OF POSSESSION: 3:11. KEY PLAYS: Housewright 14- and 33-yard passes to Anthony Fairhurst. Housewright avoids a sack attempt by Zach Murray and finds Tyler McFarlin for
20-yard gain to the AL-1.
ASHLAND 21, AVON LAKE 14. Nick Firment 1 run (Prendergast kick) 5:27. DRIVE: 15 plays, 80 yards. TIME OF POSSESSION: 5:24. KEY PLAYS: Rafee Daanish recovers Jeff Tell`s fumble to keep possession for Avon Lake at own 17-yard line. Haddad 21-yard run to A-45. Firment 10-yard pass to Ryan Scherer to A-29.
Ashland 21, Avon Lake 14
ASHLANDÂ Â Â Â Â Â 14Â Â Â 0Â Â Â 0Â Â Â 7Â Â Â - 21
AVON LAKEÂ Â Â Â Â Â 0Â Â Â 7Â Â Â 0Â Â Â 7Â Â Â - 14
ASHÂ Â Â Â Â Â AL
First downsÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 19Â Â Â Â Â Â 17
- by rushingÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 5Â Â Â Â Â Â 14
- by passingÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 12Â Â Â Â Â Â 3
- by penaltyÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2Â Â Â Â Â Â 0
Yards RushingÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 109Â Â Â Â Â Â 263
Yards PassingÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 255Â Â Â Â Â Â 42
Total YardsÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 364Â Â Â Â Â Â 305
Passes Att/CompÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 26/16Â Â Â Â Â Â 12/4
Intercepted byÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 3Â Â Â Â Â Â 2
PenaltiesÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 3/35Â Â Â Â Â Â 4/40
RUSHING: (AL) Mike Haddad 24-176, Jeff Tell 25-88, Nick Firment 1-1. (A) Taylor Housewright 22-79, Shane Kipp 2-30.
PASSING: (AL) Nick Firment 4-12-42-0-3. (A) Taylor Housewright 16-26-255-1-2.
RECEIVING: (AL) Ryan Sherer 2-23, Peyton Armbrecht 1-14, Dan Weimer 1-6. (A) Tyler McFarlin 6-109, Anthony Fairhurst 4-59, Shane Kipp 1-39.