CASTALIA - Forget about moral victories or pats on the back for a good effort when it comes to the Defiance Bulldogs' 17-14 loss to No. 1-ranked Avon Lake last night at Margaretta High School.
Coach Jerry Buti knew he had the Shoremen beat with the ball at the Avon Lake 2-yard line with 14 seconds left to play.
But Avon Lake defensive back Brian Jones tipped a Austin Keel pass and hauled it in for an interception at the 1 to end the game and Defiance's season.
Avon Lake (11-1) moves on to play St. Francis de Sales in the Division II regional finals next Friday. Defiance finishes 9-3.
“Everyone had us sold up the river but we believed we could win this game,” Buti said. “That's what makes this so frustrating. We would have kicked a field goal if we didn't score on the next play, but we felt we could get into the end zone and end this thing.”
Jones, who scored on a 21-yard touchdown run as a tailback in the third quarter, said he read the roll- out play and just tried to get his hands on the ball.
“We practiced that play all week and I was biting on it pretty good,” Jones said. “I tipped the ball and fell down. I didn't know if I would be able to catch it but when I looked up, it landed right in my hands.”
The play overshadowed a valiant comeback effort by Defiance, which saw its 7-0 halftime lead disappear on two big plays by Avon Lake in the third quarter.
Defiance drove from its own 28 and was bailed out on a Shoremen interference call on fourth-and-eight at the Avon Lake 45 with about a minute left in the game.
On a third-and-five at the Shoremen 12, Keel ran around right end for 10 yards to the 2, with 0:19 left, setting up the big finish.
Defiance drove to the Shoremen's 34 on the series before, but Avon Lake's Khalid Ghafir made the game's biggest play up to that point, stepping in front of a Keel screen pass at the line of scrimmage and racing to the Bulldogs 30.
The Shoremen drove down to the Defiance 1 before opting for a Tom Port 18-yard field goal with 2:32 left in the game.
Defiance had its moments as well. Eric Steyer rushed for 158 yards on 34 carries for Defiance, but 110 of those were in the first half and 70 on the game's first drive, when the Bulldogs marched 91 yards for the game's first score.
Steyer scored from the 1 with 8:09 left in the quarter to give Defiance a quick 7-0 lead.
Avon Lake tied the game on Jones' touchdown on its first drive of the third quarter. The drive started at the Defiance 43.
On its next series, Avon Lake quarterback Marc Jungermann scrambled out of the pocket, found a seam and ran 62 yards for a touchdown with 6:59 left in the third quarter for a 14-7 edge.
Defiance marched right back on its next drive, with Keel connecting on a 49-yard touchdown pass to Joe Butcher, tying the game with 3:37 in the third quarter.