Published in The Record Courier
November 8, 2014
It might have felt like deja vu early on, but the end result was quite different.
After a 31-21 Week 10 loss to Kenston, the Aurora Greenmen got their revenge in the opening round of the Division III playoffs, winning 42-24 at Aurora’s Veterans Stadium Friday night.
Facing a 21-7 halftime deficit, Aurora came out of the lockerroom with one simple plan: Give the ball to Ben Nelson, and let their offensive line make some roads.
“We were shell-shocked again,” said Aurora coach Bob Mihalik. “The same thing happened last week. We had some turnovers early. Like wow, deja vu, here we go.
We said, ‘guys, we’ve been here before, only this time we were going to show we were the more physical team.’ I think we showed that, outscoring them 24-3 in the second half.”
Aurora’s Mitch Evans set up the opening second-half drive with a return to the Aurora 43, then four straight runs by Nelson put the Greenmen (10-1) in the red zone.
Nelson fumbled the next carry, but Aurora recovered on the 1-yard line and Austin Piunno finished the drive to cut the lead to 21-14.
After a quick three-and-out by Kenston, Aurora got the ball back, and the Bombers defense saw more of the same with Nelson charging right at them.
Six straight runs totaling 30 yards got Aurora to Kenston’s 30. After a quick breather for one play, Nelson rushed for 20 more yards for his lone touchdown to tie the game with 4:02 to go in the third quarter.
“He’s been our go-to guy all year,” Mihalik said. “You go with the horse that brought you. But the game was about our line, both sides. Our offensive line took over in the second half.
The Kenston defensive front seven is so good. They dominated us last week, it was nice to turn the tables on them.”
The Aurora defense forced another three-and-out, only this time a muffed punt attempt gave the Greenmen the ball on Kenston’s five-yard line. It took two plays for Aurora quarterback Alex Smierciak to race into the end zone, giving Aurora its third touchdown of the third quarter and first lead at 28-21.
“We knew that our hogs up front would get the job done for us, so we relied on them strongly in the second half,” Smierciak said of his line.
Kenston had virtually controlled the first half, but the second half was far different. “It was a tale of two halves,” Kenston coach Jeff Grubich said. “Aurora made some great adjustments. That’s Aurora football right there. They put a clinic on us in the second half.”
Kenston did attempt to battle back on the next possession, as quarterback Parker Gdula utilized his legs and his favorite weapons, Jeremy Wyers and James Thigpen.
They drove down to the Aurora red zone, but had to settle for a field goal to make it 28-24. The Bombers would get no closer, as Aurora would score two more times in the fourth quarter, including an 18-yard run where Piunno and the entire Aurora offensive line as a group pushed the Kenston defensive front seven more than 10 yards into the end zone.
As for the Greenmen defense, they were pressuring and hitting Gdula all night long. “We harassed their quarterback all night long, didn’t let him feel comfortable,” Mihalik said. Despite the harassment, early on it looked like Kenston (8-3) would take down the Greenmen for a second straight week.
The Bombers forced three turnovers in the first quarter, scoring on one of them and spending a large chunk of time in Aurora territory. Kenston recovered a Nelson fumble on the Aurora 14-yard line early in the game.
Gdula did all the work from there, rushing two times and scoring on an 11-yard run to go up 7-0. The second Bombers’ first-quarter touchdown came after a Greenmen three-and-out. Starting at midfield, a Thigpen 14-yard run set up a Gdula 32-yard pass to Jake Silbermann, who made a nice hook move to avoid an Aurora defender then scrambled 27 yards to reach paydirt.
It could have been worse, but the Aurora defense was able to put enough pressure on Gdula to prevent the Bombers from taking advantage of the other turnovers.
Nelson finished with 186 yards and a touchdown for Aurora, overcoming three fumbles, two of which were lost.
Piunno scored two touchdowns on the night, while Nick Settlecase provided the other Greenmen score.
Gdula threw for 163 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jake Silbermann. Wyers had five catches for 63 yards and one notable kick return of more than 65 yards, which set up one of Kenston’s touchdowns.
Aurora will play No. 1 seed Hubbard (11-0), a 45-14 winner over Tallmadge, in the regional quarterfinals on Friday. The game site will be announced on Sunday.