Girard in third straight playoff appearance
The Girard High School football program made history this season and few outside the program have noticed.
After being seeded fifth in Division IV, Region 13 last season and reaching the state championship game before losing 42-14 to Cincinnati Wyoming to finish 13-2, not many outside the program gave the Indians much of a chance of returning to the playoffs.
Girard lost a boatload of seniors who fueled last year’s run, including All-Ohio quarterback Mark Waid, but that didn’t deter the Indians this year. They will make a school-record third consecutive postseason appearance when they play at top-seeded Perry (10-0) in the first round Saturday night.
“Our standards and goals don’t change,” sixth-year coach Pat Pearson said. “We went about our business instead of living off last year. We ran into the injury bug and that hampered us, but these kids are resilient and … we’re back. I’m so proud of them for everything they’ve overcome. They worked hard and battled to get back.”
The meeting with Perry also will mark the third consecutive season the teams have met in the playoffs. Perry was seeded second in 2017 and beat the sixth-seeded Indians 50-21 in a regional semifinal as Girard finished 10-2.
Last season, the Indians beat the top-seeded Pirates 42-33 in a regional semifinal after taking out fourth-seeded East 34-30 in the first round. They went on to beat Hubbard 43-18 in the regional final and Newark Licking Valley 53-48 in a state semifinal.
This season hasn’t been easy, as Girard went 6-4 in the regular season and finished eighth to earn the final berth in the region. The Indians won their first four games, but went 2-4 the rest of the way, including losses to fellow playoff-qualifiers South Range (36-22) and Poland (45-7) in weeks 5 and 6 and playoff-bound Struthers 54-35 on Oct. 18. Girard closed the regular season with a 45-35 loss to Niles.
Girard also lost a pair of linemen to injuries, including two-time All-Ohioan Haeden Gump.
“Losing Haeden a few weeks ago, and also a sophomore starter up front, has made things interesting,” Pearson said. “We’ve been relying on seniors Ben Lileas, Connor Moore and Khalil Hugley up there, along with juniorAnthony Dinard and they’ve done a great job. But we’ve been mixing and matching a couple others in there as well.”
Girard did return more than a handful of starters from last season, including three playmakers in Nick Malito, Jimmy Jones and Morgan Clardy. All three have put up big numbers again this season, along with junior Andrew Delgarbino, behind center replacing Waid, who was a four-year starter.
Clardy has rushed for 1,030 yards on 135 carries and Jones has added 612 on 79 runs. Jones also has 39 receptions for 473 yards and Clardy has grabbed 22 passes for 431 yards. Including returns in special teams, Clardy has 1,583 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns and Jones has 1,229 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns.
Malito has 40 receptions for 659 yards and nine touchdowns as Delgarbino has completed 106 of his 171 pass attempts for 1,584 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“They’ve done a great job carrying the load all season,” Pearson said. “Andrew is getting the ball to those guys in space and they know what to do with it. Tommy Mattox also has caught passes out of the backfield and he is running the ball for tough yards between the tackles.”
Girard is averaging 33 points per game and Perry is allowing 19.7 per game.
The Pirates’ offense has been off the charts, as they are averaging 443.3 yards per game and 50.6 points. Girard allows 27.1 points an outing.
Perry is led by quarterback Drew Schiano, who has racked up 2,597 yards passing and 34 touchdowns. His top targets are receivers Anthony Rosato (48 catches, 707 yards, 9 TDs), Devon Holbert (31-662, 17 TDs) and Matthew Sullivan (15-309, 6 TDs) and running back Jaylen Anderson (43-677), who has a combined 23 TDs when including his rushing attemps (86-928).
“They are a very good team and are really explosive on offense,” Pearson said. “Their quarterback is very athletic and moves his feet well to buy time for his receivers to get open. He doesn’t run much, but he’s athletic. We’ve got to find ways to get some stops.
“In the games we’ve lost, we’ve struggled to make plays on money downs and our backfield and linebackers are going to have to make big plays when the ball is in the air. Our DBs — Nick Malito, Dominic Malito, Jones and Clardy — will have to get it done and our linebackers — Mattox, Delgarbino and Lileas — have to have strong games.”