Sometimes a moral victory is the best thing that comes out of loss.
That's about all the Canfield football team earned last Friday night in its battle with unbeaten and All American Conference Red Tier-leading Niles. Despite playing their hearts out all evening, the Canfield kids got those hearts broken in a 27-21 overtime defeat. Canfield's catastrophic setback sent the Cardinals to 1-2 in the conference and just 2-4 overall. No matter what the Cardinals' record reads, nothing can take away how close they came to springing an upset last week at Bob Dove Field.
"It was a tremendous effort," said Canfield head coach Mike Pavlansky as he reflected a couple nights later. "We never doubted how hard the kids would play. We made a lot of plays, but we needed one more play and couldn't get it."
Conversely, the Red Dragons did make one last big play and that came at the tail end of the fourth quarter. With Canfield leading 21-14 and Niles down to a final snap, quarterback Stefan Yuhas hit Chris Parry on a last-second touchdown pass. The ensuing extra point sent the game into overtime.
Canfield had the first chance in OT, but lost that opportunity to take the lead when it fumbled the ball over to the Dragons. That turnover was the last of five huge giveaways by the usually protective Canfield offense.
"Anytime you lose the turnover battle in any game, you're in trouble," Pavlansky grumbled.
Coach Pavlansky would get even grumpier when the Dragons turned that turnover into a game-winning touchdown plunge by Yuhas. Niles' nifty quarterback not only scored on that final play, but he clipped the Cardinals for 164 yards rushing on 35 carries. Heading into the game, coach Pavlansky was sure that Stefan's rushing skills would be important to stop in order for his team to spring the upset, but that didn't happen very often.
"We missed a few tackles," said Pavlansky, "but that doesn't take away the game (Yuhas) played. He's a tremendous player."
Despite all of the doings of the Dragons quarterback, Canfield's defense still played a solid game. A lot of the field position nailed down by Niles was due to Canfield's turnovers and other mistakes. There is no way the Cardinals would have come one stop away from a monumental win without a decent defensive performance.
"Some of (Niles) touchdowns were set up by poor kickoff coverage by us," said Pavlansky who is a stickler for sound special teams play. "Otherwise we played tremendous in the red zone. We were able not to buckle (in the red zone)."
Another thing the Cardinals were able to do was win the line of scrimmage battle and set some running lanes for their rushers. Because of that sophomore Nick Annichenni was able to gain 94 yards and score two touchdowns and quarterback Kimu Kim was able to almost match his opposite number at quarterback with 150 yards rushing. The Cardinals were able to hold their seven-point advantage late into the fourth period because they racked up 320 yards on the ground.
"Our offensive line and our seniors made a good account for themselves," said Pavlansky. "It's a growing up process (for the younger Cardinals)."
Canfield will need to grow up fast because heading to town this Friday is upstart Youngstown East. The Panthers may be sub .500, but they are big, fast and physical and can come up huge at any time.
"East is 2-4, but they can easily be 4-2," Pavlansky admitted. "They took it to Ursuline in the first half (in week 1). They are well coached by Jim Vivo and they are as athletic a team as we have faced this year."
East was easily eliminated last week by Austintown Fitch 56-7, but that score was more indicative of a fabulous Falcons team than a poor Panther defense.
"(East) is very comparable to Niles in their defensive front," Pavlansky noted. "We will need to pick up their blitzes."
If the Cards can do that, then maybe they'll be able to pick their broken hearts up off the turf as well.