It was a somber Senior Night at Canfield High School last Friday evening.
This senior bunch of Canfield football players endured a lot of heartache in their final scholastic season resulting in an uncharacteristic 2-6 record through eight weeks. A win against favorite Howland would at least allow those twelfth-graders a reason to celebrate. Alas, that partying was put on hold as Howland upended the home team 31-17. The Cardinals not only fell for the fifth week in a row, but also saw their All American American Division record drop to 1-4.
After the contest, Canfield head coach Mike Pavlansky expressed his sorrow for his classy senior class.
"(The loss) was more difficult because it happened on Senior Night," said the coach. "The seniors showed great leadership on Friday night and all season. They carried us through a tough season."
Canfield actually held a 17-14 lead entering the second half behind a balanced offensive attack. Quarterback Jake Cole was able to cap an impressive scoring drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to stake the Cardinals to a 7-0 lead. A 27-yard field goal by Bryan Kristan upped Canfield's advantage to 10-0. Then with Kimu Kim at quarterback the Cardinals were able to reach the end zone again to gain a three-point lead at halftime. That first half performance by the Cardinals was truly one of the highlights of 2012.
"It was probably the best half of football we played all year," said Pavlansky emphatically. "The kids fought and fought. We just couldn't throw the ball in the second half."
If the game could have only ended after 24 minutes there would still be celebrating going on in Canfield at this moment. Instead, while the Cardinals couldn't pass the pigskin after halftime, the Tigers were able to torment Canfield's defense on the ground. The final two quarters of the contest became a showcase for Howland's super senior running back De'Veon Smith. Howland had the ball at the start of the third quarter and rode Smith all the way to the end zone. The future Michigan player was as elusive as a Wolverine for Canfield to contain on that drive as he took every carry on the 61-yard march. That Tiger drive culminated with Smith scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run to give Howland the lead. De'Veon then destroyed all of the Cardinals' hopes with a 37-yard touchdown jaunt in the fourth quarter. By the time the game ended, Smith suffocated the Canfield defense for 267 yards rushing and in the process he became the all-time leading rusher in Trumbull County history.
"(Smith) is very, very talented," Pavlansky admitted. "Seeing him for four years is enough. (Howland) is so good up front too, which opens holes up for him."
The Cardinals will try to dig themselves out of this unpleasant deep hole of a season this Friday night at Hubbard. The Eagles are coming off a 48-19 destruction of Beaver Local to stay above .500 in the conference. This will be the first time Canfield and Hubbard hook up with conference bragging rights on the line. In fact, it's the first time the Cards and Eagles have faced off on the football field in a while.
"We haven't played Hubbard since the '90s," said Pavlansky, "so we are looking forward to going there and playing them. They are a good program who still hopes to make the playoffs."
Since the Eagles have a decent shot at the postseason, perhaps Pavlansky's kids can use this season finale to act as a spoiler. That, though, is OK in theory, but don't tell coach Pav about that plan.
"We never considered ourselves a spoiler type team," Pavlansky insisted. "You fight every week and play for something every week. Hopefully we can send the seniors out the right way."