Stifling defense and a big night for running back Khennedy Skagliozzo spelled a 28-0 Comets victory over the North Olmsted Eagles (4-4) on Friday in Southwestern Conference play.
The victory moves Amherst to 5-3 and secures the team its first .500 or better finish since 2010.
Scagliozzo finished with 196 yards rushing and scored on runs of 19 and 17 yards in the first quarter. Both touchdowns saw the junior break tackles before bouncing outside and outrunning the back end of the North Olmsted defense.
“This was a bounce-back week and I think our team responded well,” said Scagliozzo, referencing an Oct. 6 40-28 loss to Avon Lake. “We have two more games and we have to see how the playoff race shakes out.”
According to early projections, Amherst is rated eighth in Division II Region 6, narrowly ahead of Avon Lake and Fremont Ross. The top eight teams after week 10 qualify for the playoffs.
“We just can’t let up,” said Scagliozzo. “Every snap and every quarter we have to hit and hustle, and that’s it. We have to carry this feeling tonight over to next week.”
The Comets travel this Friday to Avon to take on the 8-0 Shoremen, the top-rated squad in the region.
“We’ve put ourselves in this playoff battle to try and get in,” coach Mike Passerrello told players after the win. “There’s a lot of things we’re going to talk about, but for right now, I want you guys to enjoy this and go over to the crowd and say hello to some people.”
Most students and players donned pink clothing to show support for breast cancer awareness and research. A halftime announcement said the Comets community has raised more than $3,000 for the cause this year.
Coming to Amherst in January after six years leading the Firelands Falcons, Passerrello has turned the Steele team into one of the area’s best surprises. Imports from his previous stop, like an aggressive 3-4 defensive front and wing-T running attack, have proven to be the right mix to elevate a team that finished 3-7 in 2016.
That defense held North Olmsted to just nine first downs and 163 yards of total offense.
“We’ve been able to finish games and that’s what we did tonight,” Passerrello said. “I’m very proud of how these kids have grown through the season. In some ways we’re still a young football team and we’re going to continue to evolve and get better.”
After Scagliozzo’s scores put Amherst up 14-0, junior quarterback Matt Fairchild pushed a scrum across the goal line for another touchdown with 24 seconds remaining in the first half.
Fairchild competed 11 of 20 passes for 240 yards and also connected with Devin Holmes for a 68-yard score in the fourth quarter.
“These fans have been waiting and the whole town has been waiting for the team to put things back together,” said Fairchild. “There’s more we want to do than go .500 but it feels nice. Coach Passerrello has come around and changed the culture. Now we have to keep playing hard and not turn the ball over.”
Passerrello said defeating Avon will take a balanced effort that doesn’t lean on one or two individual performances.
“It’s got to be a team win,” he said. “You can’t beat a great team like Avon with only a few guys making plays. Everyone has to do their job. It should be an exciting atmosphere. We just want to give it everything we have, do it for the seniors, and keep moving this program forward.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.