It has been a very long time since the Canfield football team lost four games in a row.
It has also been eons since the Cardinals have been beaten by Struthers on the gridiron.
Unfortunately, both of those things happened to the Cardinals last Friday night in Struthers. Canfield was clobbered by the Wildcats 39-21 to fall for the fourth consecutive week and give the home team its first win over the kids from Canfield in forever. With just a 2-6 record, the Cardinals are in the midst of one of their worst seasons in recent memory, but that doesn't mean head coach Mike Pavlansky has pulled the plug on 2012.
"We need to keep plugging away," said the frustrated yet upbeat coach. "We have a great group of kids who keep competing on Friday nights. It just hasn't worked out in the wins/loss column."
Canfield could not control the 'Cats from the outset of the contest. Before most fans got through the gates, the Wildcats scored on a long touchdown pass to jump on top. After that first Struthers score, it became the David Stewart show. Struthers' senior running back clipped the Cardinals with 248 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Despite the team's unremarkable record, Canfield's defense has actually shown flashes of good play this season. Against Struthers' super senior, however, the Cardinal defense had few answers.
"He's a load to bring down," said Pavlansky. "He is a tremendous back."
Down 20-7 to start the third quarter, Canfield took possession of the football and tried desperately to get back to within one score of Struthers. Quarterback Jake Cole concluded that short drive when he ran past the Wildcats' defense for a 46-yard touchdown run. Although some bumps and bruises bewildered Canfield's backfield, Cole was able to have a steady if not spectacular performance the times he was behind center.
"Jake did a good job," Pavlansky noted. "We shook up our backfield a little, but you have to give credit to the offensive line for doing a good job."
That goal by Cole made the score 20-14 Struthers, but the hosts then went on to score 19 of the game's final 26 points to push Canfield (1-3 in the conference) further down the All American Red Tier standings. Still, if a few breaks went the Cardinals' way in the second half, they may have been able to pull even with the Wildcats instead of falling a game behind them in the conference.
"The game was much closer than the score indicated," said Pavlansky. "We had our chance when it was 20-14. Struthers scored on a couple big plays and we couldn't make any big plays."
Speaking of big plays, Pavlansky's pupils will see a player this Friday who could be pictured next to the phrase "big play" in the dictionary. Howland comes to Canfield this week led by all-world workhorse back Deveon Smith. This future Michigan player may be wearing maze and blue next fall, but right now he is amazing and leaves defenses feeling blue with his rare combination of speed and power.
"Smith is a great back for sure," said Pavlansky honestly. "He is the first person you think about when you talk about Howland, but they have other kids that are good on that offense too."
All week in practice, coach Pavlansky and his staff will still be trying to stop Smith first and that has to worry him considering his defense just gave up nearly 250 yards rushing to a much less accomplished runner.
"We will need to do a better job tackling," Pavlansky explained when asked how his team can contain the top Tiger. "We will also need to establish consistency on offense to keep him off the field."
Howland is coming off a surprising 17-10 loss to Niles in week 8 so the Tigers should be chomping at the bit to get back into win column in Canfield. The fact that any team can seemingly win a game on any Friday night in the Red Tier gives Coach Pav some hope for week 9.
"The All American Conference is the best one around right now," he said sternly. "Everybody has a loss in the conference and anything can happen."