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Greenmen gridders No. 1 in region after topping Copley

by STEVE BATKO | CORRESPONDENT Published: October 19, 2016 1:00 AM
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Copley -- Aurora's football team took a monumental step with a 42-28 win Oct. 14 to clinch at least a share of the Suburban League American Conference championship and secure a home first-round playoff game.

And the Greenmen moved into the top spot in Division II Region 5 computer points standings, ahead of Warren Harding.

Big plays from some talented skilled athletes and tremendous effort in the trenches led Aurora to the huge win that clinched a share of the Suburban League American title.

Aurora (7-1) won its seventh straight game and got a ton of computer points, but more importantly, for now, won the league crown.

With a 5-0 mark, Aurora has only a home Oct. 28 season finale clash against Tallmadge (2-6, 0-4) left on the American Conference slate. Copley (6-2) fell to 4-1.

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Aurora's defense held Copley to just seven points and held Michigan State recruit Weston Bridges to just 26 rushing yards in the first half.

Bridges, who has almost 1,300 rushing yards this fall, finished with 191 yards and 2 TDs on 20 carries. He was a non-factor in the first half, but d had several long runs in the second.

Linebackers Bubba Arslanian and Nate Smierciak had huge games for the Greenmen, but it was a special teams play by junior Gavin Blunt that changed the game's course.

Blunt had a scintillating 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to respond to Copley's first score.

In all, Blunt had three catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns, plus he had two kickoff returns for 124 yards. As a safety, he had four tackles and solid coverage.

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However, Blunt, who also is the holder for field goals and extra points, had his biggest play just after Copley got back into the game.

Veteran quarterback Austin Brenner got Copley on the board with 25 seconds left in the first half on a 3-yard keeper to cut Aurora's lead to 21-7.

Blunt answered with the 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to make it 28-7. The versatile Blunt has natural instincts and strong vision in the return game

"I think that was the turning point," said Aurora head coach Bob Mihalik.

"THEY [COPLEY] finally scored and got some momentum late, but Gavin made a play. It was huge. Gavin is a special athlete; he had some great catches and is great in the return game. He does it all."

The obvious momentum carried into the locker room and helped the Greenmen hold off Copley's second half charge.

Arslanian had two apparent interceptions for touchdowns in the win, but he had one pick 6 called back because of a block in the back. The interception was valid, but the return was erased.

The 6-0, 210-pound senior inside backer had his first interception of Brenner on an incredible catch and run on a 47-yard pick 6, putting Aurora in the lead 7-0 at the 6:56 mark of the first quarter.

Aurora's defense was in a zone set and Arslanian got the ball underneath the receiver.

"Bubba just stepped underneath in zone coverage, and he had a really big night for us," Mihalik pointed out.

The second pick by Arslanian set up Aurora's third score -- a Chris Vanzo 1-yard plunge -- to make it 21-0 with 3:50 left in the first half.

Arslanian, who had 15 yards rushing, strong blocking for Vanzo and a 16-yard catch, was incredible on defense.

For the game, Arslanian had 19 tackles, two interceptions and a tackle for a loss.

Senior slotback Jon Blue put Aurora up 14-0 with a 2-yard run. Junior kicker Robby Albrecht hit the extra point as he was a perfect 6 for 6 kicking.

Blunt had a 41-yard catch from senior quarterback Mac Austin on a crossing pattern in the third period to make it 35-14.

Bridges broke loose for a 64-yard TD run down the sideline to cut the score to 35-21 in the third period.

"We wanted to run the ball well and use some clock so that we could keep Bridges off of the field. He is a great runner," Mihalik said. "We knew we couldn't stop him, but we contained him very well."

Blunt's third TD was a 25-yard one-handed grab as Aurora pushed its lead to 42-21 with 4:39 left. Bridges later added a 10-yard TD run.

"We had some timely playcation passes, and Austin did a great job as Copley had a lot of players in the box, and that left Blunt with man coverage," pointed out the coach.

BRENNER WENT 11 for 17 in the air for 140 yards, one TD and two interceptions. He had a 4-yard TD pass to gifted wide out Alex Zelch.

"I thought we did a great job against Brenner, who is a dual threat QB," Mihalik said.

Vanzo ran for 90 yards and a TD on 20 carries, while Austin had a strong overall game.

"Chris ran very well and the line did a great job as we were able to control things more in the second half when they were coming back," noted Mihalik. "We were able to run and use some clock."

Austin ran eight times for 54 yards and through the air hit 5 of 8 passes for 111 yards and 2 TDs. Blue added 24 yards and a TD on 4 totes. Most importantly, Austin did not throw an interception.

Smierciak had a career game with nine solo tackles and 16 overall. The junior had three tackles for a loss, one sack and a QB hurry.

Junior linebacker Brent Henderson shined with 12 tackles, a sack and one hurry, while junior lineman Mason Copley excelled with nine stops, a caused fumble and a tackle for loss.

Other top defenders were seniors Kyle DelRosa and Bryan Barefield and junior Drew McVay. DelRosa also had a 28-yard catch.

Mihalik was thrilled with the defense, which lost starting senior free safety Ben Stawicki for the year in a recent win over Revere with a broken fibula.

Standout junior middle linebacker Cole Miller was lost to injury earlier in the fall.

"We will really miss Ben and Cole," said the coach.

In non-league play, Aurora hosts St. Catharine's Canada Prep from Ontario on Oct. 21.

Canada Prep Academy is a football-only high school that prepares student athletes to receive college scholarships. The school currently has eight Division I college recruits.

"It's a game that will be a big test for us as they are big and athletic," noted Mihalik. "Then we need to beat Tallmadge for the league title outright."

Canada Prep is 3-3 overall and has played a host of schools in the area, including a win over Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and losses to Lakewood St. Edward and Medina Highland.

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