It was a very special Senior Night at Dave Pavlansky Field in Poland last Friday evening.
Twenty-six seniors were honored prior to Poland playing Youngstown East. The pregame festivities were sweet, but somewhat subdued, compared to the party that broke out after the Bulldogs defeated the Division I Panthers, 31-14. The victory over larger East earned Poland oodles of playoff points in the penultimate week of the regular season. With one game left against All American Conference American Division basement dweller Beaver Local, the Bulldogs seemingly control their own destiny as far as returning to the Division III playoffs is concerned.
If the Bulldogs are able to play defense the rest of the season the way they did against the Panthers then a lengthy stay in the playoffs may be in order. All four of Poland's touchdowns last Friday were set up by turnovers. The Panthers put the ball in Poland's hands a total of six times. Junior defensive lineman Abe Kasem collected two East fumbles. Seniors Tad Duran, A.J. Herdman, Anthony Kosec and Alex Hubbell all celebrated Senior Night with fumble recoveries of their own. Fellow senior, lineman Shane Evan, also had a special game on the senior's special night with three quarterback sacks. Poland head coach Mark Brungard pointed to those forced turnovers and defensive pressure as enormous events in the elimination of East.
Photos by Mike Capps, Town Crier correspondent
Defensive tackle Shane Evans outmuscles his opponent during the first quarter as he puts pressure on the Panthers quarterback.
Another factor in Poland's easy win was the ease in which it was able to control the football on the ground keeping the Panthers' potent offense off the field. Junior Ross Gould gashed the Panthers for 95 yards rushing in Brungard's ball-control scheme. Evan erased East's chances with two short touchdown runs and 38 yards total. Also aiding the Bulldogs' offense, both last Friday and all season long, was senior Anthony Marchionda. Marchionda made it easy for his offensive teammates to take over because the Panthers' defense had to spend a lot of time focusing on making Marchionda invisible. East failed plenty of times on that chore as Marchionda caught three passes for 39 yards including a 22-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Jake Wolfe. Wolfe has been effective in his first season as starting quarterback and with Poland's veteran group of skill players around him it has made the junior's life as a varsity signal caller less stressful.
It seems as if beating Beaver Local in week 10 will be stress free for Poland, too. No team should ever be taken for granted, of course, but that thought may be thrown out the window when playing the 2-7 Beavers. While Poland is possibly in position for another trip to the playoffs with a win, the Beavers have been absent from week 11 since 2005. Beaver Local is coming off a 48-19 loss to Hubbard last Friday in a game that the Eagles had little trouble running the ball in. That fact should make coach Brungard smile since his game plan should once again be run heavy.
Another thing that made Brungard happy last week was the win over East was a gift of sorts to him. The always youthful-looking head coach celebrated his 40th birthday on Oct. 19, which made the post-game partying twofold. Although the cake may have been served last weekend, coach Brungard hopes the candles on his team's season do not get blown out before they are playing in the playoffs.