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Gridders move up to third in region after topping Hornets

by STEVE BATKO | CORRESPONDENT Published: October 5, 2016 1:00 AM
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Aurora -- In a big league war, Aurora's football team avenged last year's loss to Medina Highland by stopping the Hornets' running attack, but the 43-10 Homecoming victory was much more than that.

The Greenmen dominated Highland in all three facets of the game Sept. 30 -- defense, special teams and offense. You could also throw in a fourth winning aspect -- coaching.

Aurora punched the Hornets in the jaw from the get-go to move to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Suburban League American Conference.

The win elevated AHS to third in the Division II Region 5 computer standings behind Warren Harding and Bedford, who are both 6-0.

"To win this game, our special teams had to make a difference, and they did a great job," said coach Bob Miahlik. "It was a big win.

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"I can't say enough about our defense. Last year, Highland ran for almost 400 yards against us. That didn't happen this time."

The defense did not allow a TD until 2:52 left in the game.

"I think we came in afraid of what their offense could do, but the defense did a great job," said Mihalik, who told his kids it was the best week of practice they have ever had.

Copley and Aurora are 3-0 in league play, while Highland (4-2) fell to 1-1. In upcoming SL action, Aurora plays at Revere (4-2, 1-2) on Oct. 7.

In 2015, Aurora had to share the SL American crown with Copley because of a 38-28 loss to the Hornets.

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This time, Aurora's defense shut down Highland's ground game to just 128 yards on 33 carries. Meanwhile, Aurora rushed for 318 yards and a 9.4-yard average.

Highland's Chris Burnside was held to 6 yards on 5 attempts and was seldom used.

or minus 3 yards.

On the opening kickoff, junior Gavin Blunt electrified the crowd with a 93-yard return for a touchdown, with a key block by 240-pound Mason Copley.

After Blunt's huge TD return, Mihalik went over in front of the AHS students and raised his arms as Veterans Stadium erupted.

Soon after, tailback Chris Vanzo ran through a huge hole for a 38-yard burst and then senior quarterback Mac Austin scored untouched on a 7-yard run behind senior guard Caleb Tinsley's block.

AHS ADDED a 2-point conversion on a run by junior Jimmy Kish and it was already 15-0 at the 8:34 mark of the first quarter.

Blunt struck again as he caught a pass from Austin, side-stepped safety Mitchell Zaz and raced 61 yards for a TD.

"Blunt made some big catches and some big plays for us," said Mihalik.

Highland moved the ball to start the second stanza, resulting in a 25-yard field goal.

"That was a big key for our defense at that point because if Highland scored [a TD], it's a different ball game," said Mihalik.

Vanzo recovered a fumble to set up a 23-yard TD burst up the middle by senior fullback Bubba Arslanian. Albrecht was perfect on all 5 of his extra-point kicks.

As the first half was ending, special teams struck again as Mihalik called a fake punt and Vanzo made two spin moves as an up-back on his way to a 45-yard TD run, making it 36-3 at halftime.

With a running clock to start the second half, junior free safety Evan Fromwiller picked off a pass on Highland's first possession.

Three plays later, Vanzo went 90 yards -- one of the longest TD runs in Aurora history -- and it was 43-3 with 1:20 left in the third.

Vanzo ran for a career-high 198 yards on 12 carries and 2 TDs.

"Vanzo showed some speed and he did a great job while Austin and Arslanian)also had some nice runs," said Mihalik, who also showed many looks and motion off of the triple-stacked I set.

Austin, who had 65 yards passing, rushed for 49 yards on 6 carries. Arslanian added 44 yards on 4 totes and Fromwiller had 26 yards on 3 attempts as backup QB.

Junior outside linebacker Nate Smierciak led the defense with 12 tackles and one sack.

Senior corner Bryan Barefield had a big game with 7 stops and caused a fumble, as did senior backer Dave Donley (6 stops).

Blunt was strong with 6 tackles, one sack, a tackle behind the line, one hurried pass and one pass defended. Arslanian and Copley (5 stops, 3 hurries, and one sack) also were strong, along with junior Brent Henderson.

After this week's game at Revere, the Greenmen will play their last road game of the regular season on Oct. 14 at Copley, and that game could decide the conference title.

The locals close out the regular season with home games Oct. 21 against Canada Prep and Oct. 28 against Tallmadge.


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