By Tim Cleveland
Friday night’s 38-16 victory over Niles was especially sweet for Poland. The Bulldogs avenged a loss to the Red Dragons last season, and they remained unbeaten in 2013.
“It was important to our kids, the ones that played in the game last year,” Poland coach Mark Brungard said. “Niles took it to us at our place, so it was something I think we felt for a long time that we wanted that we wanted to get a little revenge.”
Niles coach Brian Shaner said he was proud of his team hanging tough despite losing all but one starting offensive lineman due to injury during the game, including 6-foot-9, 315-pound senior Josh Krok.
“That was a close football game,”Shaner said. “That was the gutsiest performance by a team that I’ve been a part of, ever. We finished that game with one starting offensive lineman, playing freshmen on the line.
“Krok, sprained shoulder early in the first quarter; starting right tackle, knee early third quarter; concussion. The list goes on and on.”
Poland (4-0, 1-0 All-American Conference, American Division) won the game with a bend-but-don’t-break defense that allowed 341 yards but forced four turnovers to drop Niles (2-2, 0-1) to its second defeat to equal last season’s total.
“Our defense kept playing,” Brungard said. “We kept getting after the quarterback. We finally starting getting a couple sacks. I felt like the defense was the difference. They made some big plays but we didn’t cave.”
Red Dragons quarterback Kyle Paden’s first of three interceptions ended a drive that went to the Poland 29. One of his other two were picked off in the end zone.
It was a night of missed opportunities for Niles, which also had a blocked extra point and a fumble. With his team trailing 24-16 in the fourth quarter, Paden hit Chris Parry, who fumbled. Poland’s Colin Rody recovered on the Niles 22.
The Bulldogs didn’t miss their chance, as Marlon Ramirez went 18 yards on the second play of the drive for a 31-16 advantage with 7:40 left.
After the Red Dragons went three and out on their next drive, Poland ended any chance they had as the Bulldogs drove 50 yards for the score. Austin Wilson went in from 1 yard out for the final margin with 2:41 to play.
Despite the win, Brungard was displeased with his team’s poise. Poland was penalized 10 times for 105 yards, including a 30-yarder in the fourth quarter that included an assistant coach being flagged.
“I’m disappointed in some of the things that we did,” he said. “There was too much after the whistle and we’ve got to get that fixed.
“The referee saw one of our coaches just kind of express his disappointment (with a call). There was no vulgarity, there was no disrespect. At that point, that official was pretty worked up and that’s his right to call.”