Even the most loyal fans of Canfield football admitted before this season began that scoring points would be a difficult task for their favorite team's inexperienced offense.
None of those faithful of Cardinal Nation, however, could have possibly believed that their boys would be shutout three times this season. The third of that non-terrific trio of blankings came last Friday night at home when Canfield was upended by Youngstown East, 19-0. Canfield has now lost three consecutive games and its record dropped to an uncharacteristic 2-5 after that pummeling by the Panthers. A big reason why the Cardinals have such a hard-to-digest mark is because the offense is averaging less than 12 points per game.
"We are having some growing pains right now," said a dejected head coach Mike Pavlansky following the game. "I don't remember the last time we lost three games in a row. We need to do a better job as coaches coming up with the game plan."
While coach Pavlansky's kids were struggling to move the ball, the Panthers were prowling from their opening drive. East scored a touchdown the first time it had the ball then scored twice more on long plays in quarter number two. One reason the visitors were able to build that 19-0 halftime advantage was because it made a surprising change at quarterback before the game started. In for East was Rayfield Bell who replaced Jamir Humphrey. Although their roles were reversed, the duo destroyed Canfield when they hooked up on a 44-yard touchdown pass for the Panthers' second score of the game. The switch at signal caller was sort of shocking to the Canfield coaching staff, but not the only reason why the Cardinals fell on Friday night.
"(East) is very athletic and we couldn't stop them in the first half," Pavlansky complained. "We didn't expect (the change at quarterback), but it had little bearing on the game. We knew they'd get the ball to their wide receivers and we couldn't stop them."
The Cardinals also used a different quarterback than usual during the game to try to get the ball to their own wideouts. With the Cardinals in complete catch-up mode, Pavlansky turned to junior Jake Cole to replace starter Kimu Kim. Cole couldn't carry the Cardinals very far unfortunately, throwing for just 47 yards.
"We decided to go with Jake to help our passing game," said Pavlansky hinting that there should not be a quarterback controversy for next week. "The game kind of dictated that."
In fact, none of Canfield's offensive kids dictated much as usually dependable running back Nick Annichenni could only pick up 50 yards on 15 carries against the quick Panther defense.
After halftime, the Cardinals started to show some of their own speed on defense and did a nice job holding the Panthers to zero points in quarters three and four.
"In the second half our defense did a good job," Pavlansky noted.
Canfield will need more dominating defense the rest of the season if it is to right the ship and bail out its struggling offense. A bounce-back performance this week at Struthers will go a long way in making that a possibility. This game with the Wildcats marks the first time it will be for bragging rights in the All American Conference Red Tier. With matchups remaining with Howland and Hubbard in weeks nine and 10, all three games left on Canfield's schedule are Red Tier tilts. That will certainly make the young Cardinals grow up in a hurry.
"Our kids are disappointed," said Pavlansky. "We need to refocus with these three straight league games coming up and get back to winning football."
Despite a 21-14 loss to Beaver Local in week 7, the 4-3 Wildcats are showing off much more of a winning attitude than it has in recent years. Part of that new culture can be attributed to Struthers' first year field boss Curt Kuntz.
"The new coach is doing a good job over there," Pavlansky said. "They will not be happy with the way played against Beaver Local. We should expect a tough, physical game."
The Cardinals can also expect a tough, physical road on the way back to respectability.