The Bulldog defense held high-scoring Canton Central Catholic to 14 points.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
POLAND -- The fourth week of the high school football season felt like the playoffs. Poland and Canton Central Catholic, thank you very much.
The past two Division III state champions put fans through a second-half roller-coaster ride that ended with Poland winning 24-14 Friday at Poland High Stadium.
"So much heart, so much desire," Poland coach Paul Hulea said of his team. "But even though we won this game, our hearts and prayers are still with the people in New York."
The Bulldogs, who backed up their No. 3 state ranking, provided a balanced attack, including two late touchdowns that punctuated the game's conclusion and pushed Poland to its fourth straight win.
"We got out-hit," Central Catholic coach Lowell Klinefelter said. "They were more of a physical team than we were."
Scoring: Junior Sean Clayton's 6-yard touchdown pass to senior Jake Bajerski with 5 minutes, 46 seconds remaining provided the winning points for Poland.
Bajerski (6 catches, 113 yards) was the biggest target for Clayton, who completed 12-of-21 passes for 174 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"The odds were always against us," Clayton said. "The whole week we've been hearing the score was supposed to be 35-7 [Central Catholic]. When we win a game like that, it just feels so good that you can't even put it into words."
Defense: While Poland's offense showed signs of unifying, the Bulldogs' defense was impressive again.
It held Central Catholic, ranked second in Division IV, to 24 points below its average and harassed quarterback Vince Gliatta, who completed 6-of-17 passes for 155 yards.
Running back Marques Warner managed just 19 yards on 13 carries.
"Our defensive coaches are just working and working and working," Hulea said. "It was a gutsy, hard effort by our kids."
Klinefelter said, "We could never get anything going consistently all night."
Probably most satisfying for the Bulldogs' defense came on a play with just more than five minutes remaining.
Poland's defensive line collapsed on Gliatta, with the ball being forced loose and senior Brendan Moran scooping it up and running 18 yards for a touchdown.
"That quarterback is just so quick, but he got hit and I saw the ball go up in the air," Moran said. "When it came down, it was right in front of me. I just wanted to score a touchdown. When you're a defensive end, that's a dream."
Excited: It was only after Moran's touchdown, his career first, that onlookers knew that Poland, which trailed 6-3 at halftime, was on its way to a victory that most certainly will open eyes around the state.
"We're excited about our success, but we've got a lot of football left," Hulea said.
For his ability to run and throw, Gliatta, the Central Catholic quarterback, has received much of the attention this season in Stark County.
But the only real damage he did was a 75-yard touchdown pass to Jim Curran early in the fourth quarter that helped put Central Catholic ahead 14-10.
Poland's chances looked grim. Not only did the Bulldogs fumble their ensuing kickoff return, but two big plays on their next possession went for naught.
Shane Davis took a lateral pass from Clayton and tossed the football to Bajerski for a 30-yard gain down to Central Catholic's 30. But Clayton fumbled the ball after a 15-yard run, and the Crusaders took over.
When Central Catholic (3-1) failed to get a first down, Poland took advantage, recovering a muffed punt at the 6-yard line.
It took just one play for Clayton to find Bajerski in the end zone.
"It's just amazing," Moran said of the victory. "I'm still in shock."