By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CANFIELD -- Late in the fourth quarter of Friday's game, with chaos all around him, Canfield High junior Pat Sankovich stood calmly on the sideline, hitting kick after kick into the netting as assistant Al Thorne held each ball in place.
The Cardinals were trailing Poland 7-6 in the closing minute of the Metro Athletic Conference game and were desperately trying to move the ball into field goal range. Sankovich, however, didn't pay attention.
"My coach told me to just keep on kicking," said Sankovich. "Not to let anything else in my mind, no matter what."
With 28 seconds remaining and the Cardinals on the Poland 14-yard line, Canfield running back Sean Baker fired a pass into the right corner of the end zone that went through the arms of receiver Mike Hoelzel. It brought up a third down. With no timeouts left, Canfield coach Mike Pavlansky rushed his field goal unit onto the field.
Problem was, Sankovich didn't know it.
"The whole team was out there," said Sankovich, "but they never told me."
Pavlansky, realizing what was happening, turned around quickly and started screaming for Sankovich to get on the field. He ran through a crowd of players lining the sidelines and rushed onto the field, where he was met by his holder, Neil Sorice.
"Neil just told me, 'Relax, you've got plenty of time. Don't rush. Just hit the ball,' " said Sankovich. "That's what I tried to do."
And so, with 21 seconds remaining, on the right hash, in the middle of a downpour, against the wind, Sankovich kicked the 31-yarder and ... "it just flew magically."
Well, maybe not magically. It twisted, it turned, it quacked. And ... it ... just ... barely ... made ... it ... over.
"I was looking at the ball and [my teammates] just came and attacked me," said Sankovich, who actually joined the team one week before the opener. "I couldn't breathe."
Pavlansky actually jumped into the arms of an assistant coach -- "I don't know who it was," he said -- and the stands went nuts. There was still 16 seconds to go, but considering the conditions, it was all but over. Poland took over at its 31, ran three plays and gained 13 yards, with Chris Lovell's last pass dropping helplessly to the ground on a sideline route near the Canfield 40.
After the game, just outside the locker room, a Poland assistant sat against a wall and said, "That did not just happen."
Hard to believe
"We did about everything we could do," said Poland coach Mark Brungard. "You've got to give credit to the kid. He made an unbelievable kick.
"We just came up one foot short."
Poland, Niles and Canfield will share the MAC title, but the loss cost the Bulldogs their first playoff berth since 2002.
Canfield sophomore fullback Dan Banna lost two fumbles in the final seven minutes, including one on a fourth-and-1 with 2:50 remaining near midfield, that gave Poland two chances to drain the clock. But, two plays after the second fumble, Lovell fumbled a snap and Canfield's Justin Bonanno dove on it at the Canfield 43, setting up the last-second drama.
"Our guys play 48 minutes," said Pavlansky. "Especially in this game."
Baker, who was clearly fatigued toward the end of the game by playing both ways, finished with 76 yards on 16 carries and scored Canfield's touchdown, a 7-yard run early in the second quarter that cut the deficit to 7-6. Sankovich's extra point attempt, however, was blocked when Poland's Jason Simons broke through the middle.
Quarterback Mark Carrocce was 2-of-7 for 22 yards and an interception -- neither team completed a pass until the final minute of the game -- and added 39 yards rushing for the Cardinals (8-2, 6-1), who clinched a playoff berth in Div. II, Region 7 and will likely play Friday's first-round game near Columbus.
Sabol has 105 yards.
Poland running back Greg Sabol ran 17 times for 105 yards and scored on a 22-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. The Bulldogs (7-3, 6-1) dominated play for the first half -- they held a 167-64 edge in yardage at halftime -- but a turnover and a 14-play drive that stalled at the Cardinals' 10 kept it close. Ultimately, too close.
"It was a great ball game," said Pavlansky. "We were just able to make one more play than they did."