The Indians stopped Niles' final drive to secure a 28-21 victory.
By CHUCK HOUSTEAU
NILES -- Offense ruled the night at Niles High's Bo Rein Stadium, but a great defensive play on fourth down and inches in overtime by Girard's Adam Grdinich preserved a 28-21 win by the Indians.
"That was a great play by Adam to cut down their running back," said Girard coach Bud McSuley. "They only needed a foot there or we still might be playing.
"It was a great team effort. There were the first-game waves of ups-and-downs by both teams, but it's great to start out with a win here in Niles."
Early on, it didn't look like the teams would need overtime as Girard took advantage of two consecutive third quarter turnovers by Niles, scoring quickly both times to take a 21-7 lead.
Spread attack: The Indians, using a spread passing attack that featured four receivers, scored first on a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Randy Mason to Dustin Helle to start the third period.
Following a Niles fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Mason led the Indians on a five-play, 30-yard drive and scored on a 1-yard sneak to give Girard a 14-point lead.
"We made too many turnovers," said Niles coach Bill Bohren. "We made six turnovers on the night including those two that gave Girard 14 points. You can't do that and win many games."
Niles found a way to get back in the game in a hurry.
Following Mason's score, Niles fullback Matt White broke free on the Dragons' first offensive play of the next drive for a 70-yard touchdown. In the first quarter, White scored on a 72-yard run and the junior finished the game with 205 yards on 17 carries.
The Dragons' Matt Baritell then intercepted a Mason pass and returned it 32 yards to the Girard 13-yard line. Four plays later, Niles tied the score on a 5-yard option run by quarterback Eric Ashburn.
Costly fumble: Niles had a chance to take the lead in the fourth, but White fumbled on the 5-yard line and the ball rolled into the end zone. Brian Charles recovered for Girard to end the threat.
"We thought we had the game won when we went up by 14 points in the third quarter," McSuley said. "But Niles is a great team and they fought back."
Girard's new offense, designed by McSuley and offensive coordinator Nick Cochrane, was effective for most of the game. Mason completed 21-of-43 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns.
"We knew they were going to throw a lot," Bohren said. "They've been practicing that offense for quite a while and Mason did a good job of executing it."
Mason's best effort came in overtime when he connected with his favorite target, Anthony Jackson, for a 32-yard scoring play to give the Indians the lead. Jackson finished with eight catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
Niles countered with a strong running attack that featured White and senior tailback Lou Viglio. Overall, Niles rushed for 301 yards.