By MIKE McLAIN
There were 995 combined yards accumulated by the Girard Indians and Lakeview Bulldogs, but in the end all that mattered were the 5 yards the Bulldogs needed most.
Attempting a field goal of 45 yards late in the fourth quarter, Lakeview senior Noah Busefink had the line but the ball fell a few yards short of the goal post. The miss allowed the Indians to maintain a two-point lead.
Moments later, on third-and-5 from the Indians’ 25, Morgan Clardy ran left on a jet sweep, cut back against the grain and went 74 yards to the Bulldogs’ 1. Quarterback Mark Waid took a knee on the next three snaps as the Indians advanced in the Division IV, Region 13 playoffs with a 33-31 win Friday night at Don Richards Field.
“Even after a little disappointment last week, this group reloaded and showed their true character and their true pride,” Indians coach Pat Pearson said. “These are Girard kids. They never quit.”
The Indians, who had a perfect season spoiled in a loss to Liberty last week, are 10-1 and headed to a second-round playoff game against Perry. The Bulldogs, who hadn’t lost since the first game of the season, end with a 9-2 record.
Every fan in the packed stadium expected a high-scoring game, and they weren’t disappointed. It was playoff football at its best, with the Indians spotting the Bulldogs a 10-0 lead.
Waid was spectacular, staging a performance comparable to what Girard fans expected 20-plus years ago from Nick Cochran, who went on to excel at Youngstown State University. Waid was 26 of 40 for 362 yards and three touchdowns. He ran 30 times for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns, finishing with 475 yards of offense.
“Lakeview has a great football team,” Waid said. “They’re well-coached and they wanted to win as much as we wanted to win. We were down 10, and most people counted us out, but we knew we could overcome anything. In my opinion, I feel this team can overcome 50-0. That’s how much I trust and believe in my guys, and that’s how much they believe in me.”
Waid’s favorite target was receiver Michael Belcik, who caught 14 passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns, including an 82-yard grab. The 82-yard play gave the Indians the lead for good at 4:43 of the third period.
“At halftime our offensive coaches just kind of got in our heads,” Belcik said of Girard’s 21-point second half. “We didn’t make many adjustments. We knew we had to execute, and Mark does what he does. He’s a great quarterback.”
Bulldogs quarterback Zach Rogers had a productive showing, finishing 13 of 21 for 262 yards and two touchdowns. He hit Drew Munno for a gain of 33 yards on a fourth-down drive that led to an 11-yard touchdown run by Evan Adair. Busefink’s point-after kick cut the Indians’ lead to the final margin with 7:57 to play.
Lakeview then forced a three-and-out and regained possession at its 15 with 7:08 to play. The Bulldogs used much of the remaining time to march to the Indians’ 15. A holding penalty moved the ball to the 23. After a 1-yard run by Rogers, the senior quarterback was sacked by Jack Delgarbino on the biggest defensive play of the game.
The play set up Busefink’s field-goal attempt.
“It was a great high school game,” Bulldogs coach Tom Pavlansky said. “The communities should be proud of the kids that participated tonight. We have nothing to hang our heads about. I’m proud of our guys. They battled hard, but it didn’t work out. Congratulations to Girard. They’re a dynamic team, to say the least.”
Pavlansky was careful in his comments about a two-point conversion pass from Waid to Nino Mayle after one of Waid’s scoring passes to Belcik. Mayle appeared to drop the pass in the end zone, but the official on the scene called it a completion. The replay on WKBN’s telecast showed the ball was dropped.
“I was very displeased,” Pavlansky said.
Busefink kicked a 35-yard field goal to open the scoring. The Bulldogs recovered a fumble by Clardy on the first play of the ensuing series and scored one play later on a 41-yard pass from Rogers to Connor Greenwood.
Waid tallied on a 4-yard run, but the point-after kick failed as Girard cut the Lakeview lead to 10-6. Lakeview answered with a 5-yard scoring run by Evan Adair. A 4-yard scoring pass from Waid to Belcik made it 17-12 at halftime.
Girard took an 18-17 lead on a 15-yard pass from Waid to Belcik in the third quarter. Waid then hit Mayle for the extra two points and a 20-17 lead.
The Bulldogs regained the lead at 24-20 on a 42-yard scoring pass from Rogers to Noah Olejnik and Busefink’s kick. Girard scored three plays later when Belcik split two defenders on his 82-yard reception. Waid ran in from 5 yards out to extend the lead to 33-24 with the extra point by Bailey McDermott.