Poland earns road win as Bulldogs raid Niles for 28-14 victory
NILES — Earlier this week Poland coach Tom Pavlansky said he was proud of the way his team reacted following its first loss of the season. Last week, the Bulldogs fell to South Range after a 5-0 start.
“The team was very eager to learn and to move forward,” Pavlansky said after the loss. “They came in Saturday and took ownership of their first loss of the season and gave credit to a really good South Range team. Then they went to work. Our kids have been very steady all season long. They’ve been very business-like.”
Pavlansky has to be especially proud today, as his Bulldogs also responded on the playing field Friday by way of a 28-14 win over Niles in front of a large gathering at Bo Rein Stadium.
With the win, Poland lifts its record to 6-1, including a 2-1 record in the Northeast-8 standings. Niles falls to 5-2 (2-1).
“All our seniors, every single one stepped up and led the way,” Pavlansky said afterwards. “These guys have a track record. They’re confident. They are willing to put the work in and they put their best foot forward every Friday night. We came into Niles and beat an extremely good football team that is well-coached. I couldn’t be more proud of this group, led by our captains and our seniors.”
Niles began its first possession of the game at its own four yard line and drove down to the Poland six in 13 plays. However, the drive ended with a failed field goal attempt, and the Bulldogs wasted no time cashing in. The Bulldogs drove 80 yards in just five plays, capped by a Dom Pagano two-yard touchdown run.
Niles went three-and-out on its next possession, but the Dragons defense then stopped Poland on a fourth-and-one attempt at the Poland 47, and this time the Dragons turned the opportunity into points. Antuan Gardner and Joe Smith took turns carrying the Dragons down to the Poland 27, then Gardner pulled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Budak.
Poland immediately regained the lead at 14-7 with a 12-play, 67-yard drive in the latter stages of the second quarter. Cole Fulton and Pagano alternated carries throughout the drive, with Fulton finishing off the drive with a six-yard gallop.
Fulton and the Poland defense then took over in the second half.
Fulton opened the second-half scoring with a 52-yard touchdown run right up the middle of the field, giving Poland a 21-7 lead. Niles answered with an Anthony Budak 1-yard TD run, but the Dragons’ momentum was short-lived.
On Poland’s first play of the ensuing kickoff, Fulton took a pitch from Pagano and raced 68 yards to paydirt, giving Poland a 28-14 advantage.
Fulton finished the night with 211 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
“This was an incredible team effort,” Fulton said. “On that first long touchdown run, I went right up the middle untouched, and that’s all on our line, they were outstanding. On that second run, Dom (Pagano) made a great read and he really set me up for the touchdown.”
Fulton then capped his night by pulling in an interception on Niles’ first play of the fourth quarter. It turned out to be the first of three interceptions for the Bulldogs in the final stanza.
“That was special because I’m usually playing linebacker and I was moved to the (defensive) backfield tonight,” Fulton said. “I made a nice read. I think we were all just feeding off of each other that second half. Again this was a great team victory.”
Pagano threw just seven times for 50 yards. He also rushed for 76 yards.
Gardner led the Red Dragons offense with 187 rushing yards on 28 carries. Budak completed 5-of-26 passes for 122 yards.
“This Northeast-8 Conference is going to be a dogfight each and every week,” Pavlansky said. “We knew tonight was going to be a battle. Our defense really stepped up tonight and made one huge play after another against an explosive offense. This is a huge win for our senior class who has been leading the way since the first day of the offseason.”
Niles will look to rebound next Friday when it hosts South Range. Poland will look to maintain its momentum when it travels to Girard.