CANTON — They have been great throughout the regular season.
And they were very good in their postseason opener.
On Friday, the Greenmen decided to switch to another rather prestigious label: elite.
The fourth-seeded Aurora football team advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2012 after cruising to a convincing 34-17 victory over top-seeded New Philadelphia.
The Division III, Region 9 semifinal contest took place at Canton South High School’s Brechbuhler Stadium.
With the win, the Greenmen (12-0) are scheduled to play sixth-seeded Chardon in the Region 9 title game Nov. 22. Interestingly enough, Aurora’s last regional final appearance also took place against the Hilltoppers (10-2). The Greenmen cruised to a 34-14 win over Chardon in 2012.
Aurora head coach Bob Mihalik, on the other hand, will save his thoughts on the Hilltoppers for another day.
Who could blame him? The Greenmen, who did not reach the playoffs for the first time in 14 years last fall, are living the life, thanks to their spectacular play throughout the season.
“It feels good,” Mihalik said. “I’m proud of everybody. I’m proud of our offense and our defense. Our special teams struggled, so we’ll try to clean that up.”
Although it had an extra-point attempt and a field-goal try blocked, Aurora forced four turnovers and got four touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Alex Moore.
Two of those Quakers’ miscues resulted in first-half touchdowns as Aurora stormed out to a 27-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
New Philadelphia (10-2) stormed back with 14 unanswered points to cut its deficit to 27-17 early in the fourth quarter.
However, the Greenmen then did something longtime fans have come to expect from their football team ever since Mihalik took over 19 years ago.
They crushed New Philadelphia’s soul by pounding it down the Quakers’ throats.
Using jet sweep after jet sweep, Aurora went on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive that took up nearly six minutes off the clock. Senior wide receiver John Papesh capped the workmanlike possession with a 3-yard touchdown run.
“They [the Quakers] had gotten momentum a little bit and then we started running our jet stuff with Johnny and [senior slotback] Ben [Rogge],” Mihalik said. “Our offensive line, including our tight end, [senior] AJ Barner, just did a great job. [Senior] Tony Gramm is doing a great job blocking.”
Papesh had six carries for 48 yards during the drive. Rogge also moved the chains with a 13-yard run.
“After the first round, we were like, “We got a serious shot here,’” said Papesh, a defensive back who also had two interceptions. “We have a chance to do something special. We’ve always known that we had a chance to do something special, but we’re really doing it now. It’s fun.”
Moore completed 18-of-27 passes for 182 yards with no interceptions. He tossed a trio of 10-yard scoring passes to Papesh, junior tailback/defensive back Evan McVay, who also recovered a fumble, and rarely used senior tight end Jack Larrance.
Moore also completed a 5-yard TD pass to Barner on the Greenmen’s opening possession.
That possession took place a bit sooner than expected. That’s because Gramm recovered a New Philadelphia fumble on the opening kickoff.
“That was key,” Mihalik said. “That gave us some momentum right away. That was important.”
The Quakers, playing without injured quarterback Baron May, an Eastern Carolina University commit, got touchdowns from senior running backs John Sciarretti and Austin Kohl. The latter’s score came on a pass from senior quarterback Kobey Hoover. New Philadelphia also got a 37-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Elliot Warner.
By the way, Aurora allowed points in both the first and fourth quarters for the first time this season.
Of course, a certain 6-foot-5, 225-pound tight end/linebacker could have cared less.
“We just kept fighting and we came out on top,” Barner said.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.