Division IV playoff game comes down to Girard’s offense vs. Canton Central Catholic’s defense
Nick Cochran isn’t dwelling on the accomplishment of making the playoffs in his second season as a head coach.
“Nothing really changes,” the former Girard assistant said. “It’s more about the kids and, hopefully, they realize what it’s all about and that’s what we’re trying to instill in them: the importance of being here and reaching your goal and your ultimate goal every year is to win a state championship. The opportunity is right in front of them, so now they’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Three players on this year’s team: Dan Graziano, Branden Byrd and Ahmad Eggleston, were regulars when the Indians last made the playoffs, in 2009.
“In the locker room, we’re trying to tell them what it’s about,” said Cochran. “There’s no better feeling than playing in the playoffs.”
While QB Graziano and RB Eggleston are mainstays in the backfield, Byrd is the top receiver on a team that’s outscoring its opponents, 445-149.
Two-way tackle Alex Walp is having a good year as is WR/LB A.J. DeVore, defensively. All five go both ways.
Graziano is 75 of 130 for 1422 yards and 19 TDs, and the senior has rushed 183 times for 1,537 yards and 16 touchdowns. Eggleston has run 173 times for 1,292 yards and 25 TDs.
Byrd has 26 catches for 536 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Eggleston has 12 receptions for 320 yards and three TDs.
Leading tacklers are Jake Carpenter with 65 solos and 87 total, Nick Malvasi with 64 solos and 84 total and Devore with 50 solos and 80 total.
Campbell was Girard’s only loss this season, 42-35.
In 2009, the Indians went 10-0, then beat CVCA before losing to Woodridge in the regional semifinals.
In 2008, Girard went 9-1, but missed the playoffs.
Girard played Canton Central Catholic in 2001 in a first-round playoff game and lost, 35-20, after CCC broke open a tie game in the third quarter with a couple of interceptions.
Girard reached the regional final in 2002, but lost to Ursuline.
“I think the biggest thing for us is to focus on being better tomorrow than we were today,” Cochran said. “As long as we keep getting better than we did the day before, then I think that’s the biggest thing. When we practice today and, from that, get better tomorrow, then we’re going to be better on Saturday.”
Cochran said that the Crusaders are sound in everything they do.
“Defensively, they don’t make many mistakes. They’re well-disciplined and well-coached. We’re going against a [coach] who’s been there 39 years [Lowell Klinefelter]. They run the ball a little and throw and mix it up good and they have a great tailback in Devin Green.
“We’re just not satisfied being here. We have to get over the hump and that’s the only way you can get it across is to keep on winning in the playoffs.”
The Crusaders — state champs in 1988 and 2000 — previously made the postseason in 2007. They missed the playoffs last year after a Game 10 loss.
Green (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) has over 1,000 yards and QB Shawn Jones has thrown for almost 1,000 yards.
“If you’re asking me if we’re a better offensive or defensive team,” Klinefelter said, “I’d think we’re probably a better defensive football team.”
DL John Miller is a three-year starter and leading tacklers are LBs Cory Stuffelbeam, Brad Frohman and Trace Blakeney.
In the secondary, Green, as a cornerback, is a threat to intercept and safety Tommy Roth is one of the Crusaders’ leading tacklers.
“Of what I’ve seen, we’re impressed with Girard because they throw and run the ball equally well,” said Klinefelter. “That’s very unusual to find a team that does both equally as well as they do.”
Klinefelter also complimented Girard’s defense.
“I’ve never seen anybody move the football on them that much except Campbell, which got a few big plays against them. But I’ve seen nobody move the football against them with consistency.”
Since Canton Central Catholic isn’t in a league, their objective is to fight for the playoffs.
“Everyone asks us, ‘What do we play for if we’re independent?’ and I tell them that it’s for the love of the game. But playoffs are an added thing we like to play for too.”
Fullback A.J. Battista, a three-year starter who was in line to reach 1,000 yards, was lost in Week 5 when he blew out his knee and needed reconstructive surgery.
“That’s hurt us because he was also one of our best receivers,” Klinefelter said.