By Michael Leonard | Record Publishing Co.
Winter arrived just in time for Aurora’s Division II state semifinal Friday.
Less than a mile from shores of Lake Erie, both the Greenmen and Toledo Central Catholic faced wind chills in the low 20s, blowing snow and wind gusts in excess of 30 mph.
The frozen tundra of Kalahari Field in Huron hosted a dogfight between the Irish and Greenmen — only to see Aurora’s state title game homes end one gamed shy of the state final for the second straight season.
Aurora had a 13-7 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Irish scored twice in the final eight minutes and held on for a 20-13 win.
Toledo Central Catholic advanced to play Trotwood-Madison in the Division II state title game. Trotwood defeated New Albany 33-32 in other semifinal action on Friday.
While there were tears in the Aurora (12-2) postgame huddle, head coach Bob Mihalik said his team had nothing to be ashamed of.
“They gave everything they had tonight,” Mihalik said. “Our kids were in there with a team that was bigger and faster than us and has some kids going to BCS schools. They fought to the end.”
Tight end Zach Smierciak echoed his coaches sentiments.
“We came in here tonight knowing that we were the underdog,” Smierciak said. “Toledo Central Catholic is a great team. I think we won some respect from them tonight.”
Smierciak paid tribute to his fallen teammate Paulie McGhee, noting he wanted his team to “play exactly like Paulie.”
Mihalik said he felt Smierciak did just that.
“He tried to put us on his shoulders and make as many plays as he could,” Mihalik said.
Aurora struck first, thanks to a pair of big plays from junior quarterback George Bollas.
On Aurora’s second possession, Bollas broke loose for a 54-yard off-tackle run down to the Irish 10-yard line.
Three plays later, Bollas hit a well-designed screen play to Smierciak for an 11-yard touchdown with 4:48 left in the first quarter.
Bollas had a solid night both ways, rushing for 119 yards, while going 6-of-13 for 107 through the air. He also caught a pass.
Smierciak finished with three catches for 51 yards and also led the Greenmen with seven tackles and a sack.
Central Catholic struck right back with a long drive, engineered by quarterback DeShone Kizer. The Irish capped the drive with a 2-yard run from Robert Moses III.
It took four tries, thanks to three penalties, but Jacob Studer eventually hit the extra point to tie the game at 7 with 23 seconds left in the first quarter.
Both teams had chances in the second quarter, including when Aurora linebacker Justin Wazbinski recovered a fumble by Irish running back Amir Edwards in Irish territory with 1:11 in the half.
However, a bad exchange caused Aurora to fumble right back, killing the scoring chance.
“I think that was a big play at end of the first half,” Mihalik said. “We could have had the lead at halftime, which would have been huge.”
With the wind at their backs, Aurora had a good third quarter.
The Greenmen defense stopped the Irish twice in Aurora territory, once on an interception by Miles Milner and then on a fourth-down stop.
Late in the quarter, a 45-yard bomb from Bollas to Jake McVay put the Greenmen deep in Irish territory.
Bollas would cap the drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak, giving the Greenmen at 13-7 lead with 3:04 left in the third quarter.
However, Joey Melchiori’s extra-point attempt went wide, which would prove crucial.
“That missed extra point was a turning point,” Mihalik said.
Aurora kept the Irish at bay until Central Catholic hit a bomb of their own. Kizer found tight end Keith Trowbridge open on the sideline and the Louisville recruit took it 43 yards to the Aurora 5.
Kizer wen 7-of-12 for 96 yards on the night and also ran for 49 yards
Two plays later, Edwards ran in the first of two fourth-quarter touchdowns and the extra point made it 14-13 with 7:54 left.
“They had been pressing up on us, so we were able to hit them with a double move on that long ball,” said Irish coach Greg Dempsey. “(Aurora) reminded me of Dayton Carroll, who we played back in 2005 in the state semifinals. That game came down to a last-second field goal. Their grit and their passion was evident.”
Down a point with time winding down, Aurora elected to go for it on fourth down at their own 32, but Bollas pass fell incomplete.
It took the Irish just two plays to capitalize on the good field position, as Edwards (92 yards rushing, 2 TDs) ran in a 20-yard sweep for a touchdown with 3:07 left.
However, the Greenmen blocked the extra point, keeping it at 20-13 and the Greenmen’s hopes alive.
Aurora converted a pair of third-and-long plays on its final drive and drove the ball all the way to Irish 23.
However, on fourth-and-18 at the 31, Bollas was sacked by the Irish to seal the win.