GIRARD OH- Week 9 of the high school football season provided what might have been the game of the year in the Northeast 8 Conference between the No. 2 ranked Girard Indians and the climbing No. 16 ranked Struthers Wildcats.
These two run first teams left it all on the gridiron Friday night, but it was the Wildcats who had the last cheer in the contest. Struthers led by the Week 7 Big Dog of the Valley Alec Grzyb would march down the field six times to score the football against a stout Girard defense.
Both defenses earned a stop on the first drive of the night, but each would give up a touchdown on the second drive. Grzyb missed the extra point however and the Wildcats would trail in the first quarter 7-6 for quite some time. That was until Grzyb, Anthony Carter, Tyler Sanchez, and Najier Howard would head down the field once more to grab another touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie the game after the Indians had found the endzone a few drives earlier on a Stephen Sims touchdown. They went to halftime all tied up at 14-a-piece.
Out of the gate in the second half Girard attempted an onside kick that would go out of bounds after making it past the first line of the Struthers return unit. Struthers with the ball at the fifty-yard line would take it straight to the endzone and earn their first lead of the night on an 11-yard Anthony Carter run. They would attempt to throw on the 2-point conversion and would not make it so they led 20-14.
Girard found the endzone twice via Stephen Sims in the first half, but they forced to make a quarterback change in the second half as Sims did not see any action. Sophomore quarterback Dominick Tollone took the reigns of the Indians offense and would quickly answer the score of the Wildcats finding the solemnly used tight end in Jake Doby on a long touchdown pass to tie the game. They would retake the lead thanks to the extra-point and then on the ensuing kickoff they would try and kick the ball high and short in another attempt to get the ball back to their red-hot offense. It was unsuccessful and once more the Wildcats would be setup with good field position in the second half. Struthers found a rhythm once again behind the legs of Grzyb and Carter as they marched down the field and Najier Howard connected with Alec Grzyb for a 23-yard touchdown pass. Yet again the Wildcats failed a 2-point conversion, and the score was 26-21.
Going into the fourth quarter it was still a close game, but momentum was clear in the corner of the cats as they earned two unanswered touchdowns and began to pull away from the Indians temporarily before Dominick Tollone found Bobby Alejars for a touchdown. Girard would make the extra point to close the deficit back down to a one score game 34-28. Struthers offense was humming in the second half of this game as once more they would drive down the field for their fourth second half touchdown as Devin Braham had one carry all night long and it turned out to be a forty plus yard touchdown run to put the game back to two possessions after Chaz Ekoniak would make a spectacular catch in the endzone on the two-point conversion.
Girard still had just over six minutes to score twice in the fourth quarter. Their offense began the drive after the Struthers touchdown very well as Michael Palmer had two big runs that put the Indians on the plus side of the fifty. However, Struthers defense came to play on this drive as they held up the Indians on third down near the forty-yard line and forced Girard into a fourth and one. The Indians then decided on fourth and one to throw a fly route towards the endzone instead of running the football and it would come down on the turf incomplete. Struthers would take control of the ball and run the clock out to win the game.
“Trust the climb” has been the motto all year for this Wildcats unit and the climb has them now in a tie for second place of the NE8 and in the playoff race thanks to their win against a top seeded Girard Indians. They now have a winning record for the first time since their week one win against Aquinas as their record pushes out to (5-4) overall and (4-2) in conference play.
Girard now loses their third game of the season falling to (6-3) overall and (3-3) in the conference. They have already clinched a birth in the OHSAA playoffs but their seeding may take a dive for the second straight week following the loss. They will try and right the ship next week back home against Niles. The Wildcats will again defend home field next week in a battle for second place of the conference against the Poland Bulldogs.
*Contributed By YSN’s Alek Koberna