BY JOEL SENSENIG | MIRROR SPORTS — The winningest season in Anthony Wayne football history came to a heartbreaking end in Clyde last Friday, as the Generals lost for the first time this season in a 35-28 instant classic Division II regional semifinal battle with the Avon Eagles.
AW (11-1) was in the game until the final second expired, as a pass from senior quarterback Max Denman into the end zone was knocked down to the cold, wet turf by an Avon (11-1) defender, ending the Generals’ tournament run.
“You can’t put into words how tough this is,” said AW coach Andy Brungard. “It’s hard to look your seniors in the eyes, especially when they battled the way they did. All the way down to those last seconds, everybody thought we were winning. When that letdown happened, it’s really hard to describe.”
Anthony Wayne, forced to play without junior star running back Ezra Scott after he left the game early, took to the air early and often. Denman was 22-for-37 for 292 yards and a touchdown in the game.
“Both teams had a lot of heart,” said AW junior receiver Mason Alberts, who had a game-high 12 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown. “Avon’s a great team and I hope they do well in the playoffs, but this was a disappointing win.
“Every year in the past three years that coach Brungard has been here has been a legacy,” Alberts said. “He’s definitely brought the program up and we’ve done nothing but go up ever since he’s been here. I can’t even begin to explain the legacy that these guys especially left.”
The Generals, who have breezed past most of their opponents this season, knew they would be in for a battle early on, as the Eagles went on a 19-play drive on their first possession, capped by a 1-yard run by senior quarterback Ryan Maloy, who finished with 153 yards rushing and three scores on 20 attempts.
With 1:15 remaining in the opening quarter, the Eagles led 7-0.
Anthony Wayne got right back into it, however, as junior Jacob Neumeyer ran the kickoff 72 yards down to the Avon 28-yard line. Two plays later, the Northern Lakes League-leading rusher Scott ran in from 2 yards out for the score. Junior kicker Matt Paull made the extra point and with two seconds left in the first, the game was deadlocked at 7-7.
The Eagles jumped back on top late in the first half, as running back Nick Perusek (94 yards and a score on 16 carries) took it 6 yards for the score. With 46 seconds left in the second, Avon led 14-7.
The third quarter was when the Generals really started to look like the No. 4-ranked team they were.
Two plays into the half, they recovered an Eagles fumble at the Avon 35. Three plays later, Neumeyer (25 yards, two touchdowns on eight carries) ran it in from a yard out. Paull’s kick made it 14-14 with 9:56 to play in the third.
After the Generals defense stopped Avon on fourth-and-3 from the AW 23, Denman found Alberts on a quick slant pass. Alberts took it from there, outrunning everyone for a 72-yard touchdown. Paull’s kick made it 21-14 with 4:59 to play in the third.
The Generals weren’t done yet, however.
After an Eagles punt only went 12 yards due to a strong headwind, AW took over on the Avon 35-yard line. Neumeyer capped a five-play drive with a 5-yard scoring run. Paull’s point-after made it 28-14 with 2:34 to play in the third as momentum had entirely shifted to the Generals.
Then Maloy got it rolling. The agile Avon quarterback ran 64 yards all the way down to AW’s 1-yard line on the Eagles’ next drive. A penalty pushed Avon back 5 yards, but it didn’t stop Maloy, who went 6 yards untouched on the next play. With 1:20 left in the third, Avon had gotten right back into the 28-21 game.
Both defenses came up with stops when they needed to over the next few possessions.
On the second Eagles possession of the fourth, they tied it up on an 18-yard play-action keeper by Maloy. The point-after tied it up at 28-28 with 4:42 to play.
After forcing a Generals punt, Avon took the lead for the third and final time when Mark Steinmetz (168 yards, one TD on 19 carries) broke free for a 51-yard score. With 1:35 to play, the No. 8-ranked Eagles led 35-28.
AW senior Chase Alberts got a nice return on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Generals possession at their own 38.
They got down as far as the Avon 17 with a few chances to score, but the Eagles secondary came up big and knocked the ball away from AW receivers each time to send them to the regional final game against 12-0 Toledo Central Catholic.
“I thought we were going to tie it, and maybe even go for the win,” said Mason Alberts, who had the best game of his career after the Eagles took senior receiver Max Bradfield largely out of the game.
“Their guy just tipped it and I couldn’t get my hands on it – that’s how fate worked out.”
Brungard said the relationships developed this season are what he’ll most remember about this team.
“They always brought energy, they were always fun, everybody’s always laughing and having a good time,” he said. “It’s just a special, special group.”
The coach said the difference between the third and fourth quarters was not being able to stop the Eagles run game.
“You have to be able to do that in playoff games, and we struggled with that tonight,” he said.
Alberts said he’ll always remember this year’s team, led by a special group of seniors.
“Nothing’s been more special than this team this year. I’ve built so many special relationships with guys on this team,” he said, noting seniors Denman and Bradfield.
Although there were plenty of tears at midfield following the Generals loss, there was clearly an appreciation for being part of something special as well.
“I will forever cherish the memories and relationships I made with so many people over these past three years,” Bradfield tweeted in the hours after his final football game as a General.
“Football has taught me many life lessons and has transformed me into the person I am today. I wanted to give one last goodbye and thank you to this community and program.”
Denman was also grateful for the memories he made on the gridiron with his teammates.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” he said. “Every day I walked into the locker room, I knew that I was there with people I love and guys I could depend on.
“It’s good to know that all our hard work and time will be remembered since we were 10-0, league champs and had the most wins in school history. It’s crazy to think that it’s over, but I will take the relationships I formed and the hard-work mentality into the future.”