When he looks back at his team’s latest masterpiece, Bob Mihalik couldn’t hide his enthusiasm if he tried.
“We kind of beat them at their own game,” the 19th-year Aurora head football coach said.
Mihalik was referring to Chardon, which surrendered a 16-point lead during the Greenmen’s 22-19 victory Friday in Solon.
As a result of its victory, Aurora improved to 13-0 and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in seven years.
If the Greenmen are going to beat their next opponent “at their own game,” they may have to bring their best performance of the season.
Aurora is scheduled to play 12-1 Mansfield Senior in a Division III state semifinal game Friday at Nordonia High School’s Boliantz Stadium in Macedonia. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Tygers, who are making their first appearance in the state semifinals, are having a season for the ages. Not only did Mansfield never win a regional title until this season, it also never made it to the regional championship game.
In fact, the Tygers had lost eight straight playoff games away from their home field until the last two weeks.
Don’t be fooled by the history, though. Mansfield may be the most talented team Aurora will see this season.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the Greenmen should be viewed as heavy underdogs.
Aurora has outscored its opponents 428-104. The Greenmen also have shut out their opponents four times and held their opponents to single-digit point totals nine times.
Sophomore quarterback Alex Moore leads Aurora’s offense with 1,957 passing yards and 21 touchdowns. He has completed 136 of his 204 pass attempts and has been picked off just three times. Moore has also run for seven TDs.
The Greenmen’s most electric playmaker is senior split end John Papesh, who has caught 46 passes for 851 yards and 11 TDs.
Aurora’s most versatile offensive player is Evan McVay. The junior tailback has rushed for 491 yards and six TDs on 94 carries and also has 40 receptions for 538 yards and three more scores.
The Greenmen’s leading rusher is Tony Gramm, who has gained 806 yards in 173 attempts. The senior running back has reached the end zone nine times.
Aurora relied on its running game a bit more than usual last Friday. That’s because its passing game, which had been formidable in recent weeks, struggled a bit.
“We thought our pass protection was an issue, but I’ve been pleased with our balance,” Mihalik said. “The running game kind of took over. Not too many teams have been able to run on Chardon.”
The opponent has been formidable against the run too.
What makes the Tygers so dangerous is their plethora of skilled playmakers. Three of those dynamos are future Division I college players.
Fortunately, Aurora has a Division I stud, as well. He is 6-foot-5 senior tight end/linebacker AJ Barner, who plans to continue his academic and football careers at Ohio University in Athens.
Barner has caught three TD passes and is the defense’s heart and soul, thanks to his team-leading 113 tackles. Ten of those tackles took place in the backfield. He also has knocked down seven passes and recovered a team-leading three fumbles.
Senior defensive end Lenny Galaska and senior linebacker James Austin lead the team in sacks with nine and eight, respectively. Galaska and senior linebacker Jack McElwee are tied for second on the team with 69 tackles apiece.
In the secondary, not too many receivers have beaten Papesh. Instead, he has made it a habit to play the role of unexpected target for opposing quarterbacks. Papesh leads the team with six interceptions.
Besides their array of talented athletes, the Greenmen may have this in their favor too: home-field advantage.
Boliantz Stadium is about a 20-minute bus ride from West Pioneer Trail. Of course, the same could be said the previous week, as well. Aurora fans, who have been known to travel across the state to root for their beloved Greenmen, packed the stands at a pretty large venue last week in Solon.
“It was truly a home-field advantage,” Mihalik said. “Our fans filled the home stands, which is pretty impressive. We hope it’s the same at Nordonia.”
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.