A distant second.
St. Francis de Sales once again used its sturdy offensive line to spring tailback Rodney Gamby, and the Knight defense did the rest in a 40-13 pounding of Avon Lake (11-2) in a Division II regional final.
The ninth-ranked Knights (11-1) will play in the state semifinals Friday at 7:30 p.m.
With his path being cleared by center Josh Harman, guards Mark Chapman and Eric Krieg, tackles Andrew Stanford and Jim Sliwinski, tight ends Nathan Calcamuggio and Jordan Lonchyna, and fullback Marty Patrilla, Gamby surpassed the 2,000-yard mark for the season.
For the fourth straight week, and for the fifth time in six games, Gamby also broke the 200-yard barrier. He ran 21 times for 201 yards and scored on runs 42, 5 and 31 yards.
His second TD put the Knights on top 19-7, at which point the St. Francis faithful already began chanting, “Over-rated ... over-rated.”
“We got fired up,” all-district defensive end Steve Fender said. “I don't know what it is. Maybe they've got to score one to get us a little mad, but we just stepped it up and in the second half we flew to the ball. It was a hard-hitting game and, in the end, I think we just outplayed them and outhit them. We got to the ball a little quicker.”
Knights coach Dick Cromwell's main concern coming in was establishing the run and it didn't take long for the line and backfield to ease his mind.
Backup senior tailback David Schrader also had a big night, adding 95 rushing yards on just 11 carries, including a 10-yard TD burst to give St. Francis a commanding 33-7 lead with 3:47 left in the fourth quarter.
“I don't know what got into him,” Cromwell said of Schrader, “but I'd like to find out and get him to do it every week.”
St. Francis had 330 yards on 44 rushes, plus got a timely 4-of-5, 58-yard passing effort from senior quarterback Tom Donovan, who threw TD passes of 11 yards to Dustin Szenderski in the second quarter, and 20 yards to Calcamuggio to cap the Knight scoring with 10 minutes remaining.
“We realized, if we want to win a state title, we've got to pass the ball,” Donovan said. “We pounded it at 'em at first, and then the passing game opened up and we took advantage of it.”
Can the Knights be beaten now that they've knocked off No. 1?
“I don't want to find out,” Donovan said. “We wanted to prove that we're the real deal. Anytime you play the No. 1 team in the state, you want to stick it to 'em and show 'em you're the best team in the state.”
The Szenderski TD put St. Francis ahead for good after Avon Lake used a nine-play, 67-yard march to take a 7-6 lead with 36 seconds left in the first quarter. Nick Bush ran four times for 44 yards to ultimately set up quarterback Marc Jungermann's one-yard score on a naked bootleg to the left.
“Early in the second quarter we kind of got it going and dominated them after that,” Cromwell said. “We were feeling our way a little bit and it seems like every week there's one little lull we have. That was our lull tonight. Then we came back pretty strong.”
“We knew we had to play a tough game but we just did everything that we usually do,” said Szenderski, who also added an interception on defense, setting up Calcamuggio's TD. “We just played hard football. We pounded it up front and just took it to them - hard-nosed football.”
Gamby, who now has 2,035 rushing yards on 244 carries (8.3 average) with 28 TDs, bolted around left end for a 42-yard score with 3:56 left in the first quarter. His 31-yard score came 1:51 after halftime.
The Knights topped the Shoremen 388-197 in total offense and - although nationally-regarded 6-3, 242-pound linebacker supreme Mike D'Andrea made his share of tackles - even he couldn't slow the Knight machine.
Frustrated at game's end, Avon Lake players took a personal foul penalty for roughing Schrader after a punt, and the officials ruled the game over with 12 seconds remaining.
“You talk about a ball-control offense,” Avon Lake coach Dave Dlugosz said, “St. Francis was able to control the ballgame. We have a pretty good defense, but that running back (Gamby) is something else. He can break some tackles and make a lot of yardage on his own.
“If you don't have the football, you're going to have a rough time scoring.”