Poland defies another deficit
The Bulldogs came from behind for the second straight week -- this time against Hubbard.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AUSTINTOWN -- Down a touchdown with his back to the wall and the wind in his face, Poland quarterback Sean Clayton stared down the brink of elimination and saw 86 yards and a frenzied Hubbard defense in front of him.
It was Clayton's time to shine.
The junior standout completed 4-of-5 passes for 51 yards on the drive, including a game-tying 9-yard touchdown pass to Greg Angelo with just more than a minute left to force overtime.
Then Clayton found Josh Bero for a 6-yard touchdown pass on second-and-goal in overtime to give Poland its first lead since early in the third quarter.
Poland's defense did the rest.
Final score: The much-ballyhooed first battle of cross-town combatants more than lived up to its hype, as the Bulldogs (11-1) beat the Eagles (11-1) in overtime 21-14 in Friday's Division III regional semifinal at Fitch Falcon Stadium.
"It's giving me a heart attack -- we gotta stop doing this," said Bero, after the Bulldogs won their second-straight come-from-behind playoff game. "It's a great feeling. I can't compare it to anything else."
Hubbard had a chance to tie the score in overtime, but the Bulldogs' defense stuffed three straight running plays -- none by senior standout Anthony Smith -- and Eagles quarterback Gabe McKee was picked off by Rick Marsico on fourth-and-4 at the 14-yard line to end the game.
"The word was that they had everybody focusing on Anthony," Hubbard coach Jeff Bayuk said. "Sometimes he's better as a decoy. We tried to get the ball to him at the end. It's easy to second-guess, but I'm not gonna do that. I've never done that."
Poland advances to next Friday's regional final against Mentor Lake Catholic.
Making amends: Bero's catch came after he dropped a game-winner on first and goal. After Clayton was pressured by the Eagles' defensive line, he rolled right, finding Bero back across the middle of the end zone.
"We were just telling [Bero] next play, next play," Clayton said. "We wanted to give him another chance."
Clayton finished the game 12-of-24 for 119 yards and had a key 21-yard scamper on fourth down during the game-tying drive.
Hubbard, meanwhile, controlled much of the contest and seemed to have the game wrapped up when Anthony Smith scored from 2 yards out to make it 14-7 with 2:57 left in the fourth quarter.
With the exception of one drive, the Eagles' defense had stymied Poland's offense the entire game.
But while the Eagles didn't win the game, they certainly earned some respect.
"It's almost like we were on a mission," Bayuk said. "People talk about our league schedule and who we play, but I think we showed we can play with anybody. We consider Poland one of the best programs in the area."
By the numbers: Smith led Hubbard with 26 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown, while McKee completed 5-of-7 passes for 69 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Fullback Antonio Owens had 18 carries for 79 yards and was a key component of the Eagles running game, which began to wear down the strong Poland defensive line in the second half.
But Poland seemed to make just enough plays to win.
"We did what we had to do," Poland coach Paul Hulea said. "Hubbard is a great team and they have so much to be proud of. Anthony [Smith] is just a phenomenal football player."
If the Bulldogs want to win their second state championship -- they won in 1999 -- they'll have to improve their running game and cut down on penalties.
Poland had just 44 rushing yards -- none in the first half.
Lou DaVanzo had 10 carries for 37 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs also had 11 penalties for 116 yards, including five for 15 yards or more.