Since the start of this high school football season, the Canfield Cardinals have built an interesting, yet inconsistent, pattern.
A week 1 loss, was followed by a week 2 bounce-back win, that was followed by a second loss in week 3 and another rebound win in week 4. In order to get off of that nauseating roller coaster ride the Cardinals would have to string together their second consecutive win last Friday night at home. Making that task tougher was that Canfield's opponent was arch-rival Poland, which had a two-game win streak of its own cooking in this series. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, both their streak of inconsistency and losing streak to Poland continued at Bob Dove Field. In a game that was mostly esthetically unpleasing, the Bulldogs were less ugly than their hosts and crawled away from Canfield with a 13-0 victory leaving the Cardinals 2-3 on the season (1-1 in the All American Red Tier).
"Losing a rivalry game like that is tough," said Canfield head coach Mike Pavlansky. "I am proud of our team's effort. It was a very competitive football game."
Photos by Cindy DeRose, Town Crier correspondent
Canfield junior Jake Dawson gains some yardage after a kick-off return against Poland. Nick Annichenni and John French provide the block while Poland’s Adam Wollet applies pressure.
Perhaps it was the autumn-like temperatures and climate on the last night of summer or the fact that the game was played in week 5 instead of its traditional week 10, but nothing from this game seemed destined to be replayed on YouTube. Poland was nursing a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter when Canfield turned the ball over inside its own 20-yard line on a botched shotgun snap. The Bulldogs turned that miscue into another field goal. Many experts believed that that terrible turnover was indeed the turning point of the game, but coach Pavlansky applauded his defense for stiffening in short yardage.
"It wasn't really that big of a momentum shift," said Pavlansky about the fumbled snap. "We held (Poland) to a field goal when they had a short field. It was only 6-0 at that point."
If that popgun of a shotgun snap wasn't a killer for Canfield then possibly what happened on Poland's fourth possession of the game was. Canfield's defense was coming off the field after a third down sack and a holding penalty pushed Poland into punting formation. On an attempted punt block, the Cardinals were flagged for roughing the kicker giving the Bulldogs another offensive chance. Three plays later, Poland would score on a 40-yard touchdown run, which was the only touchdown on the night.
"When you make mistakes against your rival and against a good football team you are not going to win," complained Pavlansky.
The way Poland's defense was playing, that 13-0 lead was like a 130-0 lead. Canfield was kept way under its season average on the ground by the bullying Bulldog front seven. Anytime that happens to a Mike Pavlansky planned offense it is a harbinger of horrible results. Meanwhile, quarterback Kimu Kim was continuously kept under wraps by the Bulldog's defense as Canfield's offense was forced into way too many three-and-outs.
Poland's defense wasn't the only unit that was nearly perfect on the night. Canfield's defensive kids kept the Cardinals close all night with some stellar performances of their own. That one long run for a touchdown was the only six-pointer all night for Poland so it wasn't like it was establishing any long drives either. The second of the Bulldogs' two field goals was set after Fitch's defense squeezed tightly inside the red zone. If it wasn't for a few Cardinal mistakes this game may have ended in a 0-0 tie.
"Overall our defense did well enough to win this game," Pavlansky said honestly. "Senior defensive end Mark Blanco played a great game up front and sophomore cornerback John French did a fantastic job against the (Anthony) Marchionda kid."
Pavlansky' defense will have its hands full for sure again this week against undefeated Niles. Nothing in the All American Red Tier is easy anymore and that is evident in the fact that former cellar dweller Niles is now in first place after five weeks. The Red Dragons' beat down Beaver Local last week 43-23 one week after disposing of Poland. Niles has not been to the playoffs since 2006, but has a great chance in 2012 due to a different atmosphere.
"(Niles) is 5-0 for a reason," analyzed Pavlansky. "They are well coached by (first year head coach) Brian Shaner. They have the same kids, but maybe a different voice this year. Good things are happening over there."
The best thing to happen to Niles is versatile quarterback Stefan Yuhas. The Red Dragons like to lineup in a spread offense, but they like to use Yuhas as a Tim Tebow-like rushing quarterback. One look at Yuhas' 260 yard rushing output last Friday emphasizes that.
"They run the football a lot out of the spread behind an offensive line that averages 300 pounds," Pavlansky said sounding a little envious. "Yuhas is a great game manager and we need to tackle him if we are going to have a chance."
Of course, the Cardinals will also need to move the ball themselves on offense if they are to have any chance of putting enough points on the board to slay the Dragons. That goal, however, may take a little soul searching this week in practice to achieve.
"We need to find our identity on offense and get back to basics," Pavlansky said seriously.