Avon Grove wins big in Homecoming game
● By Steven Hoffman
Avon Grove didn’t play flawlessly in the first quarter of last Saturday’s game against Octorara. A football person with a trained eye could review the tapes and find the missteps: A missed block here, a pass that was a little off the mark there. A defender might have missed a tackle at some point. A receiver might have run the wrong route. But for a long stretch in the first and second quarter, Avon Grove’s offense and defense executed so well that perfection seemed almost possible.
On the opening drive, Avon Grove marched 62 yards on 6 plays, with running back Nate Jones taking the ball into the end zone from 31 yards out for a quick 7-0 lead.
After the defense forced Octorara to go three-and-out, Avon Grove took over at their own 28. Jones took the hand-off, found an opening on the right side, and then raced 72 yards down the right sideline for another touchdown, making it 14-0.
A few minutes later, Avon Grove quarterback Shane McLaughlin lofted a nice pass along the left sideline to wide receiver Henry Buchanan. He raced past the Octorara defenders for a 62-yard touchdown, making it 21-0.
In the closing minute of the first quarter, Jones scored again, this time from 19 yards out, to make it 28-0.
While the offense was firing on all cylinders, Avon Grove’s defense was also doing good work, preventing Octorara from picking up a single first down. Linebackers Dan Hazewski and Ryan Hoffman were turning in their typically strong performances, while senior defensive end Michael Burritt made several big plays, including two sacks on Octorara quarterback Trent Pawling.
After the game, Avon Grove head coach Harry O’Neill talked about how both the offense and defense performed well.
“That’s as good as we’ve played in the last two years,” explained O’Neill. “Our kids were very focused right from the start.”
In the second quarter, McLaughlin a 52-yard drive, completing a 6-yard pass to wide receiver Brett Yurkovich and a 14-yarder to tight end Chris Vahey. A 4-yard run by Kevin Francis moved the ball to the 7-yard line. Avon Grove put Hoffman in the backfield and the 240-pound linebacker powered his way into the end zone, making it 34-0.
Jones added his fourth touchdown of the game with 1:15 left in the second quarter, scoring from 52 yards out. That made it 41-0. Jones had 227 yards rushing on just 13 carries. McLaughlin, meanwhile, was 7-for-8 passing for 129 yards.
In the second half, with many of the starters for both teams on the bench, Avon Grove put together a remarkable 21-play drive—all rushing attempts—that took up much of the third quarter and almost five minutes of the fourth quarter. A trio of running backs—Francis, Dino Arhontakis, and Kyri Rossiter—combined to move the ball 74 yards. Then sophomore quarterback Shane Wolford completed the drive by carrying the ball into the end zone from two yards out. When kicker Kevin Sheehan hit the extra point, it was 48-0.
Avon Grove tallied more than 300 yards on the ground, due in no small part to the fact that offensive linemen like David Trosky, Dylan Curtis, and Spencer Wallace were consistently winning the battle in the trenches.
O’Neill said that a key to the team’s success was the running of Jones, who has turned in some really good performances during his junior season.
“Nate got going early today, and when he gets going early that’s good for us,” O’Neill said.
McLaughlin was incredibly efficient, and he put most of his passes right where he wanted them.
The defense put together a complete game, limiting Octorara to under 100 total yards of offense.
The fact that this solid performance came on Homecoming, in front of large, boisterous crowd, had to be special for Avon Grove, especially the seniors.
“The crowd was great,” O’Neill said. “We’re trying to change the culture a little bit, to get the student body involved. They will come out for us, especially if we play well and give them something good to watch.
The impressive win over Octorara is yet another sign that Avon Grove’s football program is heading in the right direction. The victory not only improved Avon Grove’s record to 3-3 on the season, it also gave the team as many wins this year as in the previous three years combined.
“If we play the right way and practice the right way, good things happen,” O’Neill said.