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HOWLAND, OH – A Week 1 rivalry always brings out the best in teams, and the Niles Red Dragons proved that on the road against bitter archrival Howland. They used a well-balanced spread attack en route to a 21-7 victory in some Thursday night action.


After both teams started with a three-and-out, Niles put in a nice, methodical drive, thanks to the elusive running of star junior Antuan Gardner. With 7:28 to go in the first, the Red Dragons in a goal-line situation, Gardner took the ball into the endzone for a 1-yard touchdown. Keyshon Talley then hit the extra point to make it a 7-0 ball game. Gardner finished the night with 95 yards on 24 carries, for a 4.0 average.


The Niles hard-hitting defense made it really tough for Howland to find a rhythm on offense. They held the Tigers to 206 yards of total offense (177 passing, 29 rushing), all while only giving up 5 first downs on the night. Howland had some good potential with some long strikes from quarterback John Perry, but the Tigers were doomed by four game-changing turnovers; two fumbles in the first half and two interceptions in the second half. Perry finished the night 7/21 with 177 yards and 2 picks.


Another successful drive was then produced by Niles in the second quarter, who would finish with 324 yards of total offense (202 passing, 122 rushing). Another key component of the offense was quarterback Anthony Budak, an Olmsted Falls transfer. He was an impressive 19/26 for 202 yards and a touchdown. He put Niles ahead even further with a 6-yard QB draw for paydirt. Another successful Talley extra point made it a 14-0 game heading into intermission. 


Howland then had their best drive of the game at the start of the second half. It only took them three plays to score when on a 3rd & 22, Perry hurled a deep ball, which was then hauled in by Nicholas Leasure, who then sprinted down the left sideline for an 80-yard touchdown. Jack Litton then hit the extra point to bring it to within 14-7. 


The Tigers defense then made an important goal line stand when they clogged up Antuan Gardner at the goal line, holding him just short of the endzone. This was as close as the Tigers would get, however, as the offense stalled on another three-and-out and gave Niles great field possession as a result. This Niles drive ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Budak to Kristopher Hrosar, who converted from quarterback to wide receiver. The Red Dragons, aided by the two second-half interceptions, then ran the clock out and celebrated their hard-fought victory over their bitter rivals. 


Coach Jim Parry and the Red Dragons improve to 1-0 with the opening night victory. This victory is their first over the Tigers since 2019. Niles will now get ready for another tough opponent in Alliance in their home opener next Friday night down at Bo Rein Stadium. They defeated the Aviators last year in a thriller 19-16 down in Alliance. 


Coach Steve Boyle and the Howland Tigers will drop to 0-1 with the loss. They will now have to travel out to Ravenna next Friday night to take on the Ravens. Howland lost a close game at home last year to the Ravens 20-13.

*Contributed By YSN’s Noah Ricks

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