Last season, a 9-1 Avon team, on its way to its first berth in the Division II state championship game, staged back-to-back quality victories over Toledo Central Catholic (49-28) and Tiffin Columbian (35-21) on Harmon Field at Don Paul Stadium.
A year later, both the Eagles and the Tornadoes return to “The Don” one round earlier, and under a little different circumstance.
Last season, Avon was the top-seeded team in Division II, Region 6, while Tiffin Columbian was an upstart No. 7 seed that pulled off upsets to get one game away from the state final four.
On Friday night, it will be the top-seeded and undefeated (11-0) Tornadoes trying to vanquish the 10-1 and fourth-seeded Eagles in a regional semifinal.
“It’s kind of like our home away from home,” said Avon head coach Mike Elder, who has his team in the postseason for the fourth time in his six-year career. “However, we’re going to be the visiting team this time. But, it’s a great environment for high school football. I just wish it was a little closer to Avon.”
The two teams’ playoff histories go back further than the last two years.
In 2008, with both schools sin Division III, the top-seeded and 11-0 Eagles knocked off Tiffin Columbian, 13-6, at Huron High School in a regional semifinal. Avon was eliminated the following week by Sunbury Big Walnut 24-15.
This season, it is Tiffin Columbian that is hoping that the third time will indeed be the charm.
As it is, the Tornadoes have reached the regional final in each of head coach Brian Colatruglio’s two seasons at the helm, and are aiming for a third regional finale.
“They have a lot of the same players back from last year, led by their outstanding running quarterback Jack Jacoby,” Elder said. “They have another running back (Ryan Lynch) to go with him who’s fast and runs hard, and their passing quarterback (Mike Rohrbach) has been efficient.
“They’re big up front and they want to pound the ball on you. They’re a ball-control offense and Jacoby is a very patient runner.”
Lining up 90 percent of the time out of the Wildcat formation, Jacoby gained 1,638 yards on 226 carries (a 7-2-yard average) and scored 21 touchdowns this season. He’s even thrown for 180 yards and a touchdown.
When Rohrbach enters, it’s almost certain the Tornadoes will pass. He passed for 1,110 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this year. However, Columbian is more of a rushing team, having gained 2,951 rushing yards this season.
Defensively, the Tornadoes have been stout, outscoring opponents 337-147 and outgaining them 4,196-2,254. They’ve allowed an average of 205 offensive yards and 13.4 points per game. However, they have been vulnerable to giving up points and yardage through the air.
“This is the second 10-0 team we’ve ever had and we’re coming off back-to-back berths in the regional finals,” Colatruglio said. “This has been a fantastic year, but we know Avon will be a challenge.”
This is Avon’s sixth playoff berth. They’ve made it in Division IV (1996), 2004 and 2008 (Division III), and 2010-12 (Division II). The Eagles were the top seed in Region 6 in 2010 and 2011.
The Eagles have been led by a pair of Division I recruits in seniors Ross Douglas and Ralph Smith. Despite both missing the first two games of the season, both have put up glittering statistics and have been instrumental in Avon reeling off 10 consecutive wins after a Week 1 loss to Avon Lake.
Douglas, a Michigan recruit, gained 1,236 yards (an average of 137.3 yards per game) and scored a team-best 22 touchdowns. Smith, a Ball State recruit, caught a team-best 31 passes (an average of 3.4 per game) for 612 yards and seven touchdowns.
Ironically, both are going to college as defensive players. Both have been instrumental to a defense that has only allowed 807 passing yards this season.
Senior quarterback David Zeh has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in Lorain County, throwing for 1,875 yards, 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
The Eagles have forced 25 turnovers, have a plus-6 turnover ratio and are outgaining opponents 4,422-2,220.
“I’m sure they’re going to pack it in there and do everything they can to stop our run, and we’re going to mix in the pass whenever we can,” Elder said. “I feel comfortable with us running and passing. I would think they wouldn’t play us the same as they played last year.
“Last year, after we passed the heck out of the ball in our first two playoff games, they really tried to take it away from us. We actually didn’t call one passing play in the second half against them last season.”
This will be one of two playoff games at “The Don” this weekend. On Saturday night, No. 7 Hamler Patrick Henry and No. 3 Columbia Station Columbia will meet in a Division V, Region 18 semifinal.