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Struthers can’t hang on vs. Niles

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Nico Farina of Struthers takes off after making a catch Friday at Niles.

NILES — Friday’s game between Niles and visiting Struthers featured a pair of teams that entered the contest heading in opposite directions.

After starting off its season with a loss, Struthers had won two straight. After beginning its season with a win, Niles suffered back-to-back losses.

However, by the end of the night, the trends were reversed after the Red Dragons mounted a second-half rally to defeat the Wildcats, 35-28, at Bo Rein Stadium.

Niles evens its record at 2-2 overall and in Northeast-8 Conference play. Struthers now holds the same record.

“This was a nice win because after losing two straight and then trailing tonight at halftime, our kids could have easily hung their heads,” Niles coach Jim Parry said. “Instead, they came out with some intensity in the second half.

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Tyler Sanchez of Struthers rushes away from the out-reached arm of Niles defender Zack Cicero.

“We came out of the locker room and quickly had some big runs for positive yards. That gave us some energy and our kids just kept battling from there.”

As he has throughout the year, Niles quarterback Zack Leonard played a huge role Friday night.

The senior completed 12 of 18 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 99 yards and four touchdowns.

Struthers was paced by Dylan Greenwood, who threw for 152 yards and a score. Greenwood also scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.

Trailing 14-7 at the half, Niles took the opening possession of the third quarter and marched 75 yards on seven plays to tie the game at 14. Leonard hooked up with Chase Sudzina on a 40-yard pass play during the drive. Freshman Antuan Gardner also rushed for 32 yards on four carries during the possession.

Struthers immediately answered with a five-play, 88-yard drive capped by a Greenwood 1-yard run to go up, 21-14.

Again, Niles responded, this time with a Leonard-to-Gardner 17-yard pass play that cut the Wildcats’ lead to 21-20. Niles extra-point attempt was blocked.

Struthers’ ensuing possession then proved to be the turning point of the contest.

The Wildcats took possession at their own 20. However, three consecutive penalties moved the ‘Cats back to the 9-yard-line. On a first-and-21 play, Alec Grzyb was tackled in the end zone by Kolton Christopher, and Niles led 22-21 in the waning moments of the third quarter.

“That was a huge momentum swing because we had just missed the extra point, and here we are fighting back again but now still trailing,” Parry said. “Our defense made some big plays when it had to.”

Struthers was then hit with a personal foul penalty on the ensuing free kick, giving Niles possession at the 50. Leonard engineered a nine-play drive that he finished off with a 2-yard run to give Niles a 28-21 lead.

Leonard added a 16-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter to put Niles up by two scores. Greenwood answered with a 3-yard touchdown run with 3:46 left in the game. A failed onside kick by Struthers sealed the Niles win.

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