Girard senior Dustin Helle caught two touchdown passes from Matt Zuppo.
By CHUCK HOUSTEAU
GIRARD -- The Girard football team once again is expected to have a high-scoring explosive offensive attack this season, but it was an impressive defensive effort that turned back Niles 19-0 Friday at Girard.
Because of severe weather including lightning, the game was suspended, then officially called with 9:09 remaining.
Girard's defense held Niles to 27 rushing yards on 28 carries and limited the much bigger Red Dragons team to 44 total yards of offense and two first downs.
"We expect big plays out of our defense," Girard coach Bud McSuley said. "Our people up front have played for three years so they've been around.
"[The linemen] played in the MAC [Metro Athletic Conference] when they were sophomores and they were in the playoffs last year," McSuley said. "This senior group comes to play every week."
Unfortunately for Niles, the Dragons found that out quickly.
Girard held the Dragons to three plays on their first possession and took over the ball in Niles' territory after a bad punt snap.
On the Indians' first offensive play in their no-huddle, spread offense, junior quarterback Matt Zuppo tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass to heralded senior wide receiver Dustin Helle.
Helle, who earned all-state honors last year, was the favorite reciever of former Girard quarterback Randy Mason.
That play set the tone for the Indians offensively and the Girard defense took over from there.
Led by brothers Mark and Adam Grdinich, Girard forced Niles into three plays and out in seven of its eight possessions in the first half.
In the game, Niles had the ball in Girard territory five times and never made a serious threat at the endzone.
Niles did get to the Girard 25 yard line on the last play of the first half.
Girard scored twice more in the first half to take a 19-point lead that they made stand up until the game was called in the fourth quarter.
On Girard's second series of the game, the Indians drove 73 yards in 12 plays behind the running and passing of Zuppo.
Zuppo's completion of 14 yards to Mark Grdinich set up a 6-yard touchdown run on the next play by Grdinich.
Late in the half, Girard took over on its own 38-yard line with 48 seconds left.
Zuppo then tossed a 62-yard scoring strike to Helle. Jon Raidel's conversion kick gave the Indians a 19-0 lead at the half.
"Those early scores were the game," McSuley said. "Those [scores] enabled Zuppo to get comfortable and he did a nice job for us the rest of the game."
Zuppo completed 6 of 12 passes for 133 yards as Girard outgained Niles 224 to 44 in total yards.