Niles hoping to reverse its recent fortunes against AAC rival Hubbard
By Steve Ruman
On paper, the Division III, Region 9 quarterfinal game between Hubbard and Niles should be a mismatch.
The Eagles have beaten the Red Dragons in each of the past five years, outscoring them in the process 190-49. The most recent game between the two All American Conference rivals was played just four weeks ago, and that resulted in a 43-14 Hubbard victory.
However, when the two teams meet Saturday at Bo Rein Stadium, don’t expect the players or coaches to be swayed by history. As far as they are concerned, what has happened in the past will have no bearing on the future.
“We view this as a totally new challenge against a very quality opponent,” said Hubbard coach Brian Hoffman. “The scenario is completely different, and we know that Niles will come into this game with some extra motivation to play their very best.”
In fact, Niles coach Brian Shaner says his players actually welcome the opportunity to play the Eagles.
“I know our guys were keeping an eye on the rankings over the weekend, and when it came out that we were playing Hubbard, I got a lot of texts that were saying, ‘Good, that’s what we wanted,’” Shaner said. “I love the fact that my guys aren’t the type to duck anyone. They want another shot to prove themselves.”
Hubbard (7-3) is making its 11th playoff appearance. It qualified five straight years before missing out in 2011. Niles (8-2) is making its fourth appearance, and first since 2006.
Niles earned the home field advantage by finishing 2nd in Region 9. Hubbard finished seventh. It marks the first-ever home playoff game for the Red Dragons.
Hubbard enters the post-season flying high, offensively. It is averaging 38 points per game, and has scored 43 or more points in four of its last five games.
Sophomore running back Larry Scott leads the attack with 1,267 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Brandon Harb has evolved into a dual threat, rushing for 751 yards and 11 touchdowns, while throwing for 1,278 yards (77-0f-132) and 12 TDs
Darnell Tate has pulled in a team high 30 receptions for 536 yards and seven scores.
“It’s a three-headed monster,” Shaner said. “All three have the capability to make a big play each time they touch the ball.”
In the October meeting, Hubbard scored touchdowns of 41, 45, 62 and 72 yards.
“We have to put together sustained drives to keep their offense off the field, and we have to force Hubbard into sustained drives,” Shaner said.
Niles has its own dual threat in Stefan Yuhas. The senior is the first quarterback in school history to both rush and throw for more than 1,000 in a single season. He has accumulated 2,600 all-purpose yards while accounting for 30 touchdowns (19 rushing, 11 passing).
“Obviously Yuhas is the spark to their offense, but Niles is a very well-rounded team with other weapons,” Hoffman said. “And their line as big as any we’ve faced. They pose a big challenge.
“Defensively, Niles is very aggressive. They go for the big play”
Hubbard was 3-2 at one point this year before logging back-to-back wins against East Liverpool and Niles. A week 8 loss to Poland seemed to doom the Eagles’ playoff fate. However, a pair of wins, along with a good amount of outside help gave them new life.
“It took a little longer for us to peak than we anticipated, but we did have some injuries and some youth at key positions,” Hoffman said. “The first challenge is always to get to the playoffs. Once you get there, you hope to be playing your best. Right now, we feel pretty good about how we’re playing.”
Niles’ second-place finish in the region is its highest-ever ranking. Oddly enough, the Red Dragons were 4-0 on the road and 4-2 at home. They have won five straight road games dating back to last year. During that span, they are just 4-4 at home.
Still, make no mistake about it, Shaner is elated that his team will play a seventh home game this season.
“I couldn’t be happier for our kids and for this community which has come out and supported the team all year long,” Shaner said. “You give Niles a winner, and you won’t find a better atmosphere than Bo Rein Stadium.”
The winner will play either Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary or Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin in a region 9 semifinal game.