By Steve Ruman
In the days leading up the Division III, Regional 9 quarterfinal between Aurora and Canfield, Cardinals coach Mike Pavlansky preached the importance of winning all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams.
On Friday, Canfield dominated in all three areas during the first half, and the result was a Cardinals’ 23-0 home win over the Greenmen.
Canfield (11-0) moves on to a regional semifinal game against Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin. Aurora bows out at 6-5.
“We played extremely well in all phases in the first half, especially defensively and special teams, we kept things on their side of the field and gave our offense a short field,” Pavlansky said. “Offensively, we put together a nice drive to start the game, and that sort of set the tone.
“In the second half, we kind of got bogged down, but that’s a really good team we played,” Pavlansky said. “We were able to run the clock, keep them out of the end zone and get out with a win.”
Indeed, Canfield set the tone on the game’s opening drive. The Cardinals took the opening possession and marched 73 yards on nine plays, capped by a Paul Breinz 1-yard touchdown run.
Senior quarterback Vinny Fiorenza (19 carries, 121 yards) carried the ball five times on the drive, including a 39-yard scamper that gave the Cardinals a first-and-goal at the 2.
“Aurora is a really good team, a really huge team that posed a big challenge,” Fiorenza said. “It was really important for us to come out and establish our running game.
“We wanted to show ourselves that we could match up and play our game, so that first drive was huge.”
Up 7-0, Canfield allowed its defense and special teams to set the tone for the remainder of the half.
Canfield limited Aurora to just 53 total first-half yards and two first downs. Meanwhile, the Cardinals kept finding themselves inside Aurora territory to begin drives thanks to a solid performance from their return game. Kicker Sam Accordino did his part, putting kickoffs into the end zone, eliminating the Aurora return game.
In the early stages of the second quarter, Matt Zaremski returned a punt 31 yards to the Aurora 29, setting up Canfield’s second touchdown. This time, it was a Fiorenza 13-yard run.
The Cardinals took a 20-0 lead with 1:15 left in the half when Breinz took a pitch from Fiorenza and threw a seven yard halfback pass to Paul French.
“Our offensive play was tremendous, our offensive line was outstanding again tonight,” Fiorenza said. “But honestly, our defense and special teams made it all happen for us, they made our work a lot easier. The defense, special teams and offensive line deserve the credit.”
Canfield’s only score of the second half was an Accordino 22-yard field goal, but it was more than enough to move the Cardinals on to Week 12.
“Our defense was lights out, for us to shut down a very good running game like Aurora says a lot,” Pavlansky said. “We took them out of their game by forcing them to throw, and that worked in our favor.
“Our kids come to work every day, our seniors are great leaders. They just take things one day at a time and stay focused on the task ahead.”
Canfield and NDCL will meet next Friday at a neutral location to be announced Sunday.
Canfield has won 12 straight games dating to the final week of the 2016 season.