Canfield football teams have only one loss in season openers in the 11 years since Mike Pavlansky took over the head coaching duties at the school.
Season 12 is certainly one of rebuilding for Pavlansky's program and with the Cardinals' week one opponent being perennial playoff challenger Louisville, it came as no surprise that loss number two happened last Friday.
The visiting Leopards leaped out to a 21-0 lead and, although the Cardinals were valiant in their late comeback effort, Louisville hung on for a 21-13 victory.
Photos by Cindy DeRose, Town Crier correspondent
Here come the Cardinals.
"We are a very young team with lots of guys playing under the Friday night lights for the first time," explained coach Pavlansky. "It took our offense a while to get acclimated."
Louisville led 14-0 at halftime and took complete command of the contest when it scored another touchdown less than two minutes into the third period. Kudos have to go out to Canfield's kids for not giving up in front of the large throng of Cardinal Nation on hand at Bob Dove Field. With six minutes left in the game, senior Conner Kesner capped a much-needed 15-play, 81-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. After a nice interception by sophomore Nick Annichenni, the Cardinals set up shop inside Louisville territory. Kesner scored his second touchdown of the young season just 19 seconds later with a 2-yard run. Canfield only trailed 21-13 with just less than three minutes remaining and Pavlansky was cognizant of the job both Kesner and Annichenni did to pull the team to within one score of a tie.
"Kesner is a senior captain so the game he had was no surprise," the coach said. "He's a mainstay and we will count on him all year. Annichenni's interception was a nice play by a sophomore. The defense really stepped up there."
One staple of a Pavlansky team is the special teams and that unit kept Canfield alive after Kesner's second score. The Cardinals tried and executed a perfect onside kick giving the offense a shot at a potential game-tying drive. That drive was halted, however, at the Leopards' 29-yard line when a snap on fourth and one went awry. Louisville then ran out the clock on the Cardinals. The final score was certainly not indicative of how well these young Cardinals did in their first prime time performance.
"The kids never quit," Pavlansky said happily. "We moved the ball well in the second half. We had a 10-play drive in the third quarter that we couldn't capitalize on. We finally capitalized on a 16-play drive in the fourth quarter."
Engineering the drives all night for Canfield were first-time starting quarterbacks Kimu Kim and Jake Dawson. Both juniors did just enough to show the Canfield faithful that good things are still to come this autumn.
"Kim and Jake shared the quarterback snaps and both ran and threw the ball well," Pavlansky admitted. How well both signal callers do this Friday will go a long way in helping Canfield avoid an unwanted 0-2 start to the season. Canfield will travel to Alliance this week to take on a potent Aviator offense. If the Canfield kids want to board the bus back home with smiles on their adolescent faces they must try to keep up with Alliance from the beginning.
"We need to have a better start offensively," Pavlansky theorized. "That will give us some early confidence."
Confidence is one thing the Aviator offense possesses because they can sling the pigskin at a video game level. Alliance owns the best offense Canfield's defense has faced so far in two scrimmages and one regular season game. Coach Pavlansky is very aware of that fact.
"(Alliance) has great team speed," he said nervously. "They can cause problems with their speed and schemes. They can score from any point of the field."
Not only is Alliance's offense high octane, but their defenders can run to the ball with abandon as well.
"(Alliance) is just as fast on defense as it is on offense," said the coach admiringly. "This will be a huge test for us."