NILES OH- Playoffs are on the horizon and for these teams a win can save your season, but a loss can make you go packing. Niles needs just two wins in order to make the playoffs, while a Struthers win could get them some more points and get a lock in. That action took place at Bo Rein Stadium, the Eastwood Mall Field on Friday as the Jim Parry led Niles McKinley Red Dragons (2-5) hosted the NE8 conference rivals John Bayuk and Struthers Wildcats (3-4). Niles has a record against Struthers in the 2000s with it being 10-8 but would that happen Friday?
A few keys in this game was also some returning players for the Red Dragons in Matt Keeley making his return for a second week while Antuan Gardner was wearing a cast but would play both sides of the ball. Gardner did not play for the last six games before opening week against Howland.
The start of the first quarter was a defensive struggle for both teams up until the end of the first where Struthers got two touchdowns. The first was an Alec Grzyb five yard run making it 7-0. On the ensuing kickoff, the Red Dragons talented receiver in Nathan Coots had a nice return but fumbled the ball as it was recovered by Struthers. One play later, Tyler Sanchez took it up the middle 61-yards for the score making it 13-0 after the missed PAT.
In the second half, Struthers extended their lead, taking a play from the 2017-18 super bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. The Wildcats used a Philly special with Grzyb and Robert Carcelli making it 20-0.
Many thought that would be it but it wouldn’t. Niles got the offense rolling with quarterback Anthony Budak finding chemistry with Coots. Which led to Coots scoring six yards out making it 20-6. Niles then recovered a Keyshon Talley onside kick which led to Budak finding Jamari White in the back of the endzone in tight coverage making it 20-13.
However, Struthers turned up the jets. Instead of running the clock, Jason Dukes off a play action found Grzyb as both switched places. The play worked to perfection resulting in a touchdown making it 27-13. Niles drove down the field but a few run plays with Gardner and a missed fourth down conversion ended up being the game as Struthers saved their playoff hopes with a 27-13 victory.
Grzyb: 6-8 72 yards passing. 14 carries for 76 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Sanchez 13 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown.
Gardner: 23 carries for 85 yards
Coots: seven receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Niles (2-6) will have to win their next two matchups, the first being against the Hubbard Eagles (5-3) (2-3 in NE8) at Hubbard next week.
Struthers (4-4) will host Girard (6-2) (3-2) in the NE8 and can be locked in fully with a win next week.
After the game, Ian O’Brien caught up with coach John Bayuk and quarterback Alec Grzyb about the game and what to expect next week.
*contributed by YSNs Ian O’Brien*