By john Bassetti
It wasn’t long after Ciara Bello was named queen and David Meigs was named king following Girard’s pre-game homecoming parade that Meigs put his foot into the ball for the opening kickoff against Niles.
Then the Red Dragons scored on the opening drive and led, 6-0, with fewer than two minutes elapsed.
It looked like the king and queen’s reign was in trouble.
But Dan Graziano’s 20-yard touchdown pass play to Branden Byrd and Meigs’ point-after kick put Girard up, 7-6, toward a 31-6 victory for the unbeaten Indians (7-0, 2-0 AAC).
Although Meigs made four PATs and a 32-yard field goal, his seven-point total couldn’t compare to Graziano’s 12 points on two short touchdown runs and 182 yards rushing on 26 carries.
Ahmad Eggleston got into the act, too, with a 47-yard touchdown run as part of a 150-yard rushing night.
“I didn’t want the game to be close, so, I saw the seam and took it to the outside and then to the end zone,” Eggleston said of his bullet run, initally up the middle through space created by center Eric Augustine and left guard Joey Buonavolonta at 7:07 of the third quarter that gave Girard a 28-6 lead.
After Niles took the 6-0 lead on Gage McCracken’s 57-yard TD catch of Zack Bailey’s pass, Byrd blocked the PAT. Seven minutes later, Byrd recovered a fumble he caused after stripping the ball from Dillon Palmer at Girard’s 10. Palmer caught a Bailey pass and had a 50-yard gain in progress when Byrd came from behind.
A.J. Devore was the next Indian to create a turnover when he intercepted Bailey at Girard’s 34.
Junior Tyler Alejars also had an interception that set up Graziano’s first TD run that put Girard up, 14-6.
Coach Nick Cochran said Niles’ 6-0 lead was a wake-up call.
“They were strong and fast, so we just had to figure out what they were doing,” he said. “We kind of knew what they were going to do, but they were a little more physical than we thought and they played well.”
Of Girard’s 392 total yards, 332 were on the ground and 60 in the air. The breakdown of Niles’ 297 total was 117 rushing and 180 passing.
Cochran said his team didn’t exhibit its typical pass-first orientation. Instead the Indians ground it out.
“We’ve got to take what they give us,” he said. “I learned that from coach [Jim] Tressel. If they put more people in the box, you put it in the air. But they didn’t have more people in the box than us so we had to keep it on the ground.”
Niles coach Brad Yeager said that Cochran’s offense usually leads the way, but he was equally impressed with Girard’s defense.
“That [good defense] makes them a more difficult ball club,” said Yeager.