TWINSBURG: One of the successful traits of the Aurora football program under coach Bob Mihalik is halftime adjustments.
The Greenmen shut down a vaunted Chardon running attack in a 34-14 win in a Division II regional championship game Friday at Twinsburg Tiger Stadium.
Aurora (12-1) will play Toledo Central Catholic, a 42-14 winner over Avon, on Friday in the Division II state semifinal at a site to be announced. This is the Greenmen’s fourth trip to the state semifinals in seven years.
Chardon coach Mike Hewitt praised the Greenmen.
“Coach Mihalik and Aurora is not a one-hit wonder; this is a program. It is not ‘this is the year,’ ” Hewitt said. “This is a program that is a finely tuned machine that has a lot of weapons.”
The defense is one reason Aurora has become one of the area’s top programs. To stop Chardon’s wing-T attack is difficult because of the speed, ball-handling and running ability of senior quarterback T.J. Benenati.
The ability to adjust was something Mihalik talked about with the team in the postgame huddle.
“You guys are so smart. You listened and adjusted and executed,” Mihalik said.
The defense only had one breakdown in the second half when Chardon took the lead 14-13 on Reilly Hawkins’ 2-yard run with 4:54 remaining in the third quarter.
On that drive, Benenati had a 43-yard run, but was held in check the rest of the night and finished with 141 yards on 21 carries. Running back Matt Bolden was also contained, with 86 yards on 15 carries.
It was a memorable night for Aurora quarterback George Bollas. A junior, Bollas ran for 250 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries.
“It [state semifinals] was one of our goals this year,” Bollas said. “We wanted to get farther than last year.”
Trailing 14-13, Bollas ripped the heart out of the Chardon defense with a 55-yard touchdown run to put the Greenmen ahead 19-14. He came up short on the 2-point conversion attempt.
After the Greenmen stopped the Hilltoppers, Bollas scored his fourth touchdown of the night, a slick 38-yard run that came after a fake inside handoff. He then took off down the right side and scored with 10:23 remaining in the fourth quarter. Kirk Janoch followed with a 2-point conversion run to give Aurora a 27-14 lead.
Jake McVay finished off the Hilltoppers with a 24-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Aurora’s opening drive ate 9:38 off the clock and featured seven first downs, four third-down conversions and two fourth-down conversions.
Bollas capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown with 2:22 left in the first quarter. Bollas got the drive started on the first play, scrambling 24 yards out of his own end zone and later had an 11-yard third-down scramble to keep the drive going.
The Hilltoppers looked like they would match the touchdown, but Benenati fumbled at the Aurora 18-yard line to kill their first drive.
That turnover was followed by a brilliant effort by Bollas. On third-and-5, Bollas rolled to his left looking for a receiver, then tucked the ball under his arm, scrambled back toward the right side of the field and outran the defense to the end zone for a 53-yard touchdown. The extra point was partially blocked and Aurora led 13-0.
The Hilltoppers put on their own clock-eating drive, covering 70 yards in 16 plays and using up 7:37. It was capped by Benenati’s 1-yard quarterback sneak that cut the Aurora lead to 13-7 with 40 seconds left in the first half.
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