The Aurora Greenmen won their first football state championship in convicing fashion Saturday with a 21-10 over Columbus Eastmoor Academy in the Division III final. Despite being outgained in total offensive yards, Aurora took advantage of costly Eastmoor miscues to claim the title.
CANTON – For the Aurora football team, it sure is easy being green.
In the Division III state championship game, Sat., Nov. 29 at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium, the Greenmen won their first state championship 21-10 over Columbus Eastmoor Academy in front of approximately 11,000 fans.
Despite being outgained 297-191 in total offensive yards, Aurora (13-2) took advantage of three Eastmoor (13-2) turnovers getting, 14 points from takeaways as the Warriors were penalized 11 times for 78 yards.
“It is definitely cliché but you’ve got to take care of the football and force those turnovers and we definitely did that tonight and have done that the whole playoff run,” Aurora head coach Bob Mihalik said.
Said Eastmoor head coach Jim Miranda: “We knew coming into the game that (Aurora) was very opportunistic and they were able to capitalize on turnovers. Unfortunately, we had quite a few (turnovers) in the first half.”
Aurora’s second team All-Ohio quarterback Brendan Gallagher was 7-of-15 passing for 120 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“The (offensive) line protected me pretty well,” Gallagher said. “I don’t think I was sacked once all day. They gave me some time to deliver the football and that was a plus for us.”
Steven Yung and Dee Brizzolara each had three catches and a touchdown apiece.
Aurora got play underway on offense but Gallagher was picked by defensive back Alex Coleman on the fourth play of the game giving Eastmoor the ball on the Aurora 42.
“I just had to erase it from my mind,” Gallagher said of the early interception. “I put it in the back of my head because I needed to stay composed being the quarterback of the offense.”
The Warriors got points off the turnover on a 35-yard Kwesi Sample field goal giving Eastmoor the early 3-0 lead.
The first half remiained a stalemate until Yung recovered a Touche Hopkins fumble on the Eastmoor 49 giving Aurora a short field. On third down and 10, Gallagher connected with Yung in the flat and he raced to the end zone for to give the Greenmen a 7-3 lead with 8:39 left in the half.
Then the floodgates opened just before halftime as Aurora scored twice in the span of 21 seconds to take a commanding 21-3 lead into the break.
On the first score, Eric Schultz barreled into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown run capping an 11-play, 79-yard drive giving the Greenmen a 14-3 advantage.
Hopkins was flagged for a costly pass interference call on third down and 10, keeping that scoring drive alive and Aurora took advantage.
On Eastmoor’s first play from scrimmage on the following possession, Johnson was intercepted by Brizzolara and returned to the Warriors 26.
Gallagher found Brizzolara on the first down for a 26-yard touchdown pass, giving Aurora the 21-3 lead and momentum heading into halftime.
“High school football is so much about momentum and emotion and we got rolling pretty good there, our crowd got into it and we felt pretty good at that point,” said Mihalik.
But Aurora was far from thinking the game was over.
“We watched (Eastmoor) on film and we saw they were a second half team,” Brizzolara said. “We knew they were going to come out in the second half and play and they did.”
Eastmoor made an effort in the second half to make the game close scoring on its first possession after an Aurora punt. The Warriors put together a 12-play, 93-yard 6:18 scoring drive capped off by a Coleman 30-yard touchdown reception from Johnson on fourth down and long to close in 21-10 late in the third quarter.
“We tried to settle our kids down and told them were still in the ballgame (at halftime) and we came back in the second half and did a much better job,” Miranda said.
“Our game plan was to make them go on long drives,” explained Mihalik. “We wanted to keep everything in front of us and if they were going to score we wanted them to go on those long drives. Yeah, they scored but they took almost the whole third quarter to do it. Time was on our side at that point.
“Hats off to them. They didn’t go into their shell when it was 21-3 and they battled back like we knew they would.”
Eastmoor had a couple of opportunities in the final minutes of the game to put points on the board but couldn’t convert on a fourth down deep in Aurora territory on one series and after and Aurora punt, Johnson was picked off by Schultz off a deflected pass intended for Hopkins sealing the win for the Greenmen.
Johnson was 10-of-19 passing for 152 yards, the touchdown and two interceptions. Coleman had all 10 catches and the score.
Hopkins finished with 72 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Eastmoor was making its first state title game appearance in school history and is only the second Columbus City League school to reach the finals.
Columbus Brookhaven defeated Avon Lake 42-21 in 2004 to win the Division II state championship.
“We know that we made history today,” Coleman said. “We know we’re only the second team in City League history to go to the state. Even though we are disappointed that we lost, we know what kind of team we are and we know that we made history.
“Nobody can take that from us.”