BRUNSWICK — He threw for 255 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 79 yards and two scores, accounting for all but 30 of Ashland’s 364 yards from scrimmage.
Still, quarterback Taylor Housewright insisted he hadn’t played his best game.
Avon Lake linebacker Mike Haddad disagreed.
“Anyone who’s that big and throws the ball that well … he’s the best quarterback I’ve played against,” Haddad said after Housewright and the Arrows stunned the previously unbeaten and top-seeded Shoremen 21-14 in the Division II, Region 6 semifinal at Brunswick’s Kirsch Field.
The Arrows (11-1) will play Sylvania Southview for the regional title next Friday at a site to be determined by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Southview beat Piqua 21-14.
Housewright completed 16 of his 26 passes, topping the 3,000-yard plateau for the season. But the senior All-Ohioan was picked off twice.
“I didn’t play my best. A couple times I was trying to do too much,” Housewright said. “They did some stuff we didn’t see on film hiding their coverages, but we were able to adjust and come out on top.”
Housewright and the offense got an assist from Ashland’s bend-but-don’t-break defense. The Arrows gave up 263 rushing yards, but limited Avon Lake quarterback Nick Firment to 4-of-12 passing for 42 yards. Firment, who had thrown one interception in the first 11 games, was picked off three times.
“We knew they were a great running team,” said Ashland cornerback Logan Kerr, who had two of Ashland’s three interceptions. “But that’s our defense. We go out and make plays.”
Kerr’s second interception of the night came with 2:02 remaining in the third period and Ashland clinging to a 14-7 lead. On fourth-and-six from the Ashland 28, Firment lofted a pass toward the goal line. Kerr and an Avon Lake receiver both went up for the ball, but Kerr came down with it at his own 6-yard line.
“We thought if we could make them pass, we would be in good shape,” Kerr said. “Passing isn’t what they do best.”
Housewright and the offense went to work immediately. The Mr. Football candidate orchestrated a 10-play, 94-yard drive and scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 10:51 to play in the fourth quarter.
One play earlier, Housewright broke free from Avon Lake defensive end Zach Murray and found Tyler McFarlin for a 20-yard pickup down to the Avon Lake 1-yard line.
“He’s a big, strong kid,” Avon Lake coach Dave Dlugosz said. “He fought off the sack and ended up completing the pass.”
The Shoremen put together an 80-yard drive of their own to pull within 21-14 on Firment’s 1-yard keeper with 5:21 remaining. Avon Lake would never get the ball back, however, as Ashland’s offensive line rose to the occasion.
“We talked (to the offensive line) on the sidelines after they scored,” Ashland coach Scott Valentine said. “We told them, ‘When we get the ball back, you’ve got to take over the game.’ That’s what they did.”
The Arrows regained possession at their own 22. A pair of Housewright runs netted just two yards but on third-and-eight from his own 24, Housewright found McFarlin for a 15-yard gain and a critical first down. After that, the Arrows ran eight straight running plays to kill the clock. Running back Shane Kipp, who hauled in a 39-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, picked up 30 yards on his only two carries to keep the drive alive.
“Shane had a couple of big runs and the offensive line did a great job on that final drive,” Housewright said. “They knew it was their job to win the game for us. They showed a lot of heart.”
In addition to Firment’s three interceptions, the Shoremen fumbled five times, losing one. Avon Lake also was flagged for two costly roughing-the-passer penalties on Ashland’s first scoring drive.
“When we come into any game, especially a playoff game, you talk about fumbles, interceptions and penalties,” Dlugosz said.
Haddad, who doubles as Avon Lake’s fullback, rushed for a game-high 176 yards on 24 carries. Running mate Jeff Tell added 88 yards on 25 carries.
McFarlin led the Arrows with six receptions for 109 yards. Fairhurst had four catches for 59 yards.
Ashland will try to claim the first regional championship in school history against Southview. The teams met in the first round of the playoffs last year, a 47-34 Ashland win.
“This feels great. I can’t even put it into words,” Kerr said. “We’ve worked so hard to get back here.”
There’s more work to be done.
“This is a great win and it means a lot to us,” Housewright said, “but we’ve got another game to prepare for next week.”