By Steve ruman
One week after having its perfect season come to a screeching halt in a 23-point loss to Hubbard, the Niles High football team felt it had to prove itself.
Those in attendance Friday at Lombardo Field in Howland certainly must have walked away convinced that the Red Dragons are the real deal.
Down 10-0 early, the Dragons scored 17 unanswered points while shutting down a potent Howland offense en route to a 17-10 road win.
The victory all but secures a playoff berth for Niles (7-1, 4-1 All-American Conference American Division). The Red Dragons are third in this week’s computer ratings for Division III Region 9.
“Until last week, I think we were going through the motions at times, and we thought that was enough to get us a win,” Niles coach Brian Shaner said. “It took Hubbard to put us in our place and to realize that hard work got us where we were.”
The Tigers’ postseason hopes took a hit as they suffered their first league loss since 2009.
“We have to pick up the pieces and move forward,” Howland coach Dick Angle said. “Right now, there is a cluster of teams at the top of the [computer and conference] standings, and we’re still there.
“We got beat by a very good football team, and we have to put it behind us and prepare for next week,” Angle said.
Early on, it appeared as though Howland (6-2, 31-) might defeat its backyard rival for a sixth straight year. The Tigers put the first points on the board in the early stages of the first quarter on a Kyle Noble 32-yard field goal.
Then De’Veon Smith pulled in a 28-yard pass from Eric Lockney, then Smith rumbled 15 yards to the end zone to give Howland a 10-0 advantage early in the second quarter.
From that point on, the Niles defense held its ground.
Smith, who entered the game needing 298 yards to become Trumbull County’s all-time career rushing leader, was held to 91 yards on 21 carries.
Niles cut its deficit to 10-3 midway through the second quarter on a Zach Adkins 31-yard field goal. The Red Dragons tied the game when Chris Parry pulled in a 24-yard pass from Stefan Yuhas with 1:40 left before halftime.
In the second half, yuhas scored from 1-yard out for the winning points.
The loss puts Howland in a must-win situation as the Tigers close the regular season with road games at Canfield and Struthers.