Avon Grove defeats Oxford, 21-7
● By Steven Hoffman
Avon Grove head coach Harry O’Neill credited his team’s tenacious defense for the 21-7 win over Oxford last Friday night.
“That game was won because of our defense,” O’Neill said moments after watching the defensive unit limit Oxford to just 40 rushing yards and seven first downs. “Our defense played their rear ends off tonight.”
Oxford dominated the game early on, claiming a 7-0 lead in the first minute of action when senior quarterback Dan Green found Connor Hilaman open and the wide receiver eluded tackles and raced down the left sideline for a 70-yard touchdown.
The Hornets got the ball right back when, on Avon Grove’s first offensive play from scrimmage, cornerback Cole Hartert intercepted a pass by quarterback Shane McLaughlin, setting Oxford up at its own 40.
On second down, the officials flagged both teams for penalties, which was notable because it was the first of many times that the flags would fly. The teams were penalized a combined total of 25 times for 200 yards. Oxford’s second offensive series was stymied by penalties, and soon Avon Grove had the ball back.
Oxford’s defense, which was vastly improved from week one, did a nice of job of keeping Avon Grove’s offense in check, focusing primarily on stopping talented running back Nate Jones, who ran for over 300 yards against Kennett in week one. Oxford held Avon Grove to just one first down until midway through the second quarter.
Avon Grove tied the game with 5:15 left in the second quarter when Jones broke free on a 51-yard touchdown run, making it 7-7.
After a defensive stop, Avon Grove got the ball back in excellent field position at the 31 of Oxford. Jones rumbled for ten yards on first down. A few plays later, running back Kevin Francis plowed into the end zone from one yard out to give Avon Grove a 14-7 lead the team would carry into halftime.
Oxford played with intensity on both sides of the ball under first-year coach Mike Means, and the coach showed that the team is going to take an aggressive approach to its play-calling, too. When the team lined up for the second half kickoff, Oxford attempted an onside kick. Sophomore Brandon Holz recovered the ball for the Hornets, setting them near midfield with a chance to tie the game. Green connected with Hilaman on a 39-yard pass along the right sideline that moved Oxford deep into Avon Grove territory.
But Avon Grove’s defense came up with a big play when the team needed one, with linebackers Ryan Hoffman and Dan Hazewski leading the way. Oxford’s next two running attempts resulted in negative yards. A penalty against Avon Grove moved the ball to the six-yard line. On third down, Green handed the ball off to Nolan Benke, who followed good blocking up front to the three-yard line. But on fourth down, with Michael Williams, a wide receiver, taking the hand-off, Avon Grove’s defense refused to budge, and the Red Devils took over on offense at the one-yard line.
Later in the third, Oxford started a drive in tremendous field position, at the 27 of Avon Grove, but Avon Grove’s defense again rose to the challenge and forced the Hornets to turn the ball over on downs again.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Hornets capitalized on a well-designed fake punt, picking up a crucial first down deep in Avon Grove territory for another shot at tying the game.
Green, who finished the day with ten completions for 176 yards, took two straight shots for the end zone by firing passes intended for wide receiver Troy Brown, but both of them were successfully defended.
Oxford would get the ball back one final time, starting at its own 36 with just over three minutes to play, but the drive was stopped when linebacker Dillon Estes came up with an interception.
A 21-yard run by Jones swung the momentum fully in Avon Grove’s favor, and just three plays later Jones sealed the 21-7 victory with a 27-yard run into the end zone. He finished the game with 192 rushing yards.
Means was disappointed by the end result, but not by the play of his team, which fought hard and played well despite having a number of players accept new assignments after five starters were injured during the first two weeks of the season.
“I’m proud of my kids,” said Means. “They played hard for four quarters tonight.”
Means said that his defensive staff put together a good game plan to stop Avon Grove’s offense.
Oxford’s play earned compliments from the opposing team’s coach. O’Neill praised Oxford for the tough play and said that Means is doing a great job of having the team prepared to play.
With the win, Avon Grove improved to 2-0. It is the first time that the team has won back-to-back games since 2010. However, O’Neill is looking for his team to play much better on offense and to eliminate some of the mistakes that plagued Avon Grove against Oxford.
“We’re not good enough to have all those penalties,” O’Neill said. “It was a sloppy game on our part and we need to play better than that.”