Story and photo by Owen MacMillan
Avon Lake has the Silver Rail and the upper hand in the Southwestern Conference title race after handling crosstown rival Avon in thrilling fashion Friday night.
Avon Lake (4-0) held off a second-half rally by Avon (2-2) after a penalty gave the Shoremen a first down and allowed them to run out the clock for a 30-24 victory.
Avon had the only two touchdowns of the second half, but the Avon Lake defense regained its bearings and prevented the comeback.
Avon Lake coach Matt Kostelnik said he was impressed by his team’s ability to buckle down and stop the Avon surge short.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” he said. “They just responded and responded and responded, and we caught a break at the end, and I’ll take that all day every day.”
The Shoremen had quite a cushion to work with, having taken a 30-10 lead into halftime following 24 unanswered points in the second quarter. A pair of special teams turnovers, a fumble on an Avon kickoff return, a punt blocked for an Avon Lake touchdown and an interception keyed the Shoremen’s domination of the quarter.
Avon finished with six turnovers.
“The ball was just kind of popping our way a little bit,” Kostelnik said. “You don’t expect a team like that to turn the ball over six times.”
For the second straight game, the Shoremen were led by former backup quarterback and senior Jake DePaul, with junior starter Jeremy Dzik out again due to COVID-19 protocols.
“(This game) came down to the wire just like every year,” DePaul said. “But this is one of the greatest moments of my life, being part of this team. These are some of the best friends for the rest of my life. I’m so thankful to be a part of this.”
DePaul led Avon Lake’s offense all night, getting it done through the air and with his legs, but he shone brightest in that second quarter.
After leading his team down the field for a field goal to open the quarter, DePaul found an unstoppable connection with 6-foot-3 junior Matthew Stuewe.
DePaul first found Stuewe on a 26-yard dart, which he quickly followed with a 1-yard rushing touchdown. On Avon Lake’s final possession of the quarter, DePaul hooked up with Stuewe on back-to-back plays, first for a 46-yard pickup and then for an 11-yard touchdown.
“Between the (blocked) punt, the interception, it was just one thing feeding off another in our favor,” DePaul said. “And when that happens, it’s hard to stop any team because the momentum is flowing so much.”
Avon bounced back after the half, stopping Avon Lake on its opening drive and proceeding to hold the Shoremen scoreless the rest of the way.
The Eagles’ offense started to find its groove, led by junior quarterback Sam Detillio and sophomore running back Jakorion Caffey.
Caffey started to find success on the ground, but his biggest plays of the second half were on receptions.
Detillio first found Caffey in the flat in the third quarter, a reception that the 183-pound sophomore turned upfield for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter Detillio went back to Caffey, this time up the seam. Caffey raced down the field and avoided a pair of diving Avon Lake defenders for a 66-yard touchdown.
Caffey got Avon back in the game, but it was his late fumble that Avon Lake recovered on its own 15 that led to the Shoremen being able to run out the clock.
Avon Lake now looks like the frontrunner in the Southwest Conference after winning one of Lorain County’s fiercest rivalries.
The Shoremen will stay in-conference next week and face Berea-Midpark (1-2).
Avon Lake’s quarterback situation is a question mark with the expected return of Dzik, but Kostelnik sounded confident when asked is DePaul would remain a part of the offense.
“It’s an option,” Kostelnik said with a laugh. “You better believe it.”
Avon will look to avoid a rare losing record as the Eagles travel to face Elyria.
Avon and Avon Lake met in the fourth round of the playoffs last year, and Kostelnik anticipates that meeting again.
“I’m sure we’ll see them again at some point,” he said. “I just told (Avon coach Mike ) Elder ‘we always used to have a date at the end of the year.’ So hats off to them. They’re a great team.”