After starting the season 0-3, the Aurora Greenmen knew it would be a tremendous fight to make the state playoffs. Rallying for six wins in its last seven games, Aurora was rewarded with a trip to Canfield on Friday night to take on the No. 1-ranked and undefeated Cardinals.
Playing in front of a packed house on a clear but chilly November night, the Greenmen quickly found themselves down 14-0 to the home team. The early deficit proved to be the one fight Aurora could not overcome as the Greenmen fell to the Cardinals 23-0 in the Division III, Region 9 Quarterfinals.
"We knew we were going to struggle on offense to get some points," veteran Aurora football head coach Bob Mihalik said. "Our only chance was to keep a low score. I thought our defense played fairly well to hold them to 23 points. I’m proud of our kids. We were down 20-0 at halftime, and we told our seniors not to quit and to keep fighting and we had a pretty even second half."
Aurora (6-5) came into the game with the odds already stacked against them. Canfield (11-0) has only let its opponents score an average of eight points this season. The home team continued their dominance with a small but quick defense that forced Aurora to throw the ball.
In the first half alone, Canfield held Aurora to only two first downs. Both first downs came from Colin McNamara on quarterback keepers. McNamara tallied 34 rushing yards on 17 carries and was 10-of-22 in the air for 60 yards.
"Offensively, we just couldn’t seem to find a rhythm, but that’s a credit to Canfield," Mihalik said. "Their defense is just so fast and so good."
Canfield opened up scoring on its first drive, taking the ball 78 yards on 11 plays. Senior tailback Paul Brienz ran for 1 yard to put his team up with 7:30 left to play in the first quarter. Canfield would score two more touchdowns before the end of the half to lead 20-0.
The first half lead gave the Cardinals all they needed to come out of the game victorious, despite a tough second half performance from Aurora. The Greenmen dominated possession in the third quarter, holding the ball for nearly nine minutes before turning the ball over on downs.
"They got the ball first and went on a long drive. They controlled the majority of the third quarter," Canfield coach Mike Pavlansky said. "That was our fear coming into it. Thankfully, we had that cushion."
Coming away emptied handed after eating up much of the third-quarter clock, Aurora felt the pressure to quickly put some points on the scoreboard. Despite an interception from Aurora’s Drew McVay, the Greenmen again could not capitalize offensively. The game ended with Canfield using its running game to waste away the clock.
"Aurora certainly earned its way here. They have a great football program," Pavlansky said. "Where they came from was unbelievable. There are not many programs in the state of Ohio that can go 0-3 and stay with it and get to the playoffs. They are very much deserving of being here."
Mihalik had nothing but praise for his team and senior leadership this season.
"There were a lot of good life lessons for our seniors to start 0-3 and fight back and make the playoffs," he said. "We had good senior leadership. We have a class of 23 and we are going to miss them. I am proud of them."