Girard outgained Niles, 425-177, but came up short on the scoreboard.
By JOHN BASSETTI
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
GIRARD -- Niles pounced on Girard, literally, by recovering a series of fumbles and picking off a pass to defeat the Indians, 34-24, at Arrowhead Stadium Friday night.
The Red Dragons snapped Girard's four-game win streak in the all-time series between the teams which now stands at 33-20-7 in favor of Niles.
Although senior Joe Razzano was at the controls, some young Dragons were very instrumental in the outcome.
Sophomore linebacker Nate Ganyard did most of the damage by scooping up two fumbles for touchdowns in an eight-minute span. He also recovered a fumble and returned it 8 yards prior to Tyler Taylor's 11-yard run that put Niles on the board, 7-0.
It was Ganyard's first varsity game.
Another varsity first-timer was freshman Nick Liste, who did kickoffs and converted four point-after tries.
Niles' biggest offensive play was a 56-yard tally by junior John Hites in the third quarter. It put the Red Dragons ahead, 34-6.
Another junior, Sean Cleary, had an interception that set up a second-quarter touchdown and he had a fumble recovery in the third quarter.
With Ganyard's two returns of 25 and 65 yards, along with another TD by Taylor from 16 yards out, Niles led at halftime, 27-0.
"I felt great the first half, but don't ask about the second half," said Niles coach Phil Annarella. "Either they did a lot better or we did a lot worse, or a combination of both.
"But I want to give Girard credit for not quitting. You can't have blocked punts because that gave them a big score and we didn't move the ball in the second half. I'm not going to discredit us, but I want to give credit to their kids, too."
The blocked punt by Brett Dutton was recovered in the end zone by Nick Coggins to bring Girard within 34-12.
That was part of the Indians' rebound that eventually gave Girard a lopsided 425 to 177 advantage in total offense.
Quarterback Scooter Hargate, an Ursuline transfer making his first start for Girard, completed 27-of-44 passes for 318 yards. His main target was Mark Fiest, a senior co-captain who caught seven passes for 164 yards. One of Fiest's receptions from Hargate was for a touchdown from 18 yards.
Hargate also scored a TD from 4 yards and Dutton had a 1-yarder.
The first half, however, is what buried the Indians.
"We just can't put the ball on the ground against a quality team like that," Girard coach Bud McSuley said. "We've got to make big plays when we need to make big plays. My hat goes off to Niles; they made the big plays tonight."
Girard lost four of six fumbles, while Niles lost three of three.
The second half went well for the Indians, especially when they pulled within 10 points with 4:38 remaining, but missed conversions cost the home team points.
Write it down
McSuley saw enough steam in his team to infer that improvement will occur from Game 1 and Game 2.
"It ain't going to be no long year. Our kids didn't quit, but we've got to come to play. We're going to come back and make plays. We expect to make plays here."
Hargate was Girard's leading runner with 61 yards on 18 carries, while Dutton added 46 on 13 tries.
John Hites was Niles' top rusher with 90 yards on 10 attempts, all in the second half. Taylor, a senior tailback, added 61 yards on nine attempts. Razzano completed 3-of-11 passes for 28 yards.
Annarella was complimentary of his defense, especially in the second half.
"We were three-and-out almost all the time offensively. We said early on that we're going to have to rely on the defense and special teams and the defense held up its end tonight. Now, we've got to get better offensively."