Avon Eagles' defense up for challenge

MORNING JOURNAL/SAM GREENE David Zeh and the Avon Eagles face Toledo Central Catholic in the Division II, Region 6 Final, tonight, at Robert Bishop Jr. Stadium at Clyde High School.

In the first day of fall camps, the Avon Eagles work on one major thing on defense: creating turnovers. Their ability to take the football away from the start of the summer through the postseason has Avon back in the Division II, Region 6 final tonight at Robert Bishop Jr. Stadium in Clyde.

The Eagles’ opportunistic, stingy defense faces its toughest test yet in the form of Toledo Central Catholic, which has scored 95 points in its first two games of the postseason.

The defense played an outstanding game on Friday night’s 24-14 win over Tiffin Columbian, in which it held the Tornadoes to just 14 points and forced four turnovers, all of which went into the hands of junior linebacker Kevin Maloney.

“There’s that old adage that defense wins championships and the offense sells tickets,” Avon coach Mike Elder said. “Our people love to talk about offense. But all year long, our defense has been outstanding. This hasn’t just been happening in the playoffs. Anyone who’s followed us knows that we’ve played great defense all year long.”

While Avon’s defense features two Division I college recruits at cornerback in Ross Douglas and Ralph Smith, Elder feels the strength of the Eagles’ 3-4 defense is in its line, led by seniors Alex Kelly and Jeremiah Burris.

“Those two guys are senior leaders and Alex has been playing for us since his freshman year, Jeremiah since his sophomore year,” Elder said. “Not only are they senior leaders, they’ve played for us for some time. We haven’t played a football game without Alex Kelly in four years... he’s been a fixture.”

Toledo Central Catholic coach Greg Dempsey said the Avon defense will be one of the toughest his team has faced all season.

“They remind me a lot of (Toledo) Whitmer,” he said, “with a great, big front, active linebackers and very, very good defensive backs. This will be the best group of corners we’ve faced all year. It’s a complete defense and they have different looks they can throw at you.”

Going against that Avon defense will be an explosive Fighting Irish offense led by junior DeShone Kizer, a big 6-foot-5 dual-threat quarterback who already has scholarship offers from several major collegiate programs including Louisville, Nebraska and Boston College.

“He’s really become such a complete quarterback,” Dempsey said. “He’s become a student of the game. He recognized things very quickly. Things are slowing down for him at the quarterback position and he learns something new every snap, I think.”

The dual-threat ability of Kizer and the Fighting Irish’s overall offensive balance is what Elder’s defense has to find a way to slow down tonight.

“They can run it and throw it,” Elder said. “In the running game, they not only have a tailback (Amir Edwards) who’s really good but their quarterback runs the ball effectively. It’s kind of a three-headed monster. You’ve got to stop the pass and you’ve got to stop the run, but the run isn’t just one guy.”

Avon defeated Toledo Central Catholic last season in a regional semifinal, 49-28, thanks to a five-touchdown night from receiver Matt Eckhardt. He and Justin O’Rourke have since graduated, but Dempsey knows the Eagles are a very tough team to beat nevertheless.

“They’ve been able to adjust with what they have, stay in their system and do things just in a different-looking way,” he said. “The quarterback (David Zeh) is a good player. Last year, they threw for a lot of yards, especially to Eckhardt. But he still does a great job of running and passing. And Ross Douglas, obviously — he’s going to Michigan — how talented he is, and everything feeds off of that.”

@Bielik_Tim

Last Updated: 11/15/2012 11:20:24 PM EST

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