Another round: South Range, Poland set for another classic
POLAND — It’s been a see-saw battle between the South Raiders and Poland Bulldogs the past few years.
Two of the inaugural members of the Northeast-8 athletic conference, each school has split their meetings versus each other with Poland defending their home turf 27-7 in 2019, and South Range doing the same on a rainy and dreary evening last Fall 24-21.
Oddly enough, the pair of programs are each 13-2 in conference play up to this point dating back to 2019.
That equilibrium will break tonight at Dave Pavlansky Field in Poland.
The Bulldogs (2-2) are coming off a gut wrenching 27-23 loss at Hubbard last Friday after carrying a 23-6 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Getting mentally refocused with one of the more monolithic games on the calendar tonight is easier said than done though, especially against a South Range offense that averages nearly 44 points a game.
Bulldogs coach Tom Pavlansky wasn’t short on praise for Raider standouts junior quarterback Billy Skripac and senior running back Dylan Dominguez.
“Obviously, offensively we want to try and keep the ball away from them the best we can, because there’s no doubt they are probably the most talented skilled positioned players that we’ve faced so far combined,” Pavlansky commented. “We’ve faced some folks here too, those two guys are definitely in the top echelon of the area. But just trying to make sure that offensively we can control the football.
“Defensively, we’ve just got to be on point, be able to run the football, get hats to the football, and try to win first downs, and try to put them in difficult down and distance situations.”
Dominguez has found paydirt nine times this season, currently totalling 558 yards on 62 touches for a blazing nine yards per rush. Skripac has paced himself with a 73.2-percent completion percentage for 733 yards, eight scores, and one interception.
Junior Ayden Leon has been the biggest receiving threat for South Range so far, tallying 233 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with fellow junior Shane Lindstorm following behind with 208 yards and two scores.
As much as the Raiders (4-0) offense is discussed, especially following their huge 41-21 Week 1 victory over powerhouse Springfield, their prowess on the defensive end of the ball has been impressive.
After allowing 21 in their first two games, South Range has forfeited 20, and then 13 points last week against Struthers.
It’s that level of consistency that has allowed the Raiders to succeed and they haven’t lost a regular season contest since a 35-34 OT thriller at Bo Rein Stadium in Niles on October 3rd, 2019.
“Our defense is playing well, and they’re clicking, they’re playing together, they understand what we’re trying to do,” South Range coach Dan Yeagley said. “We’re doing some different things defensively, like on offense, trying to keep their defenses on heels by not knowing whether we’re going to run or pass and able to do it on any down, same thing defensively.
“We’re trying to keep offenses on their heels, trying to get pressure on the quarterback, trying to stop their running game, that’s what we’re trying to do every week, and the kids have risen to the occasion, playing well and doing what they’re told.”
It’s also a defense with six interceptions, sophomore Brady Crumbacher and Dominguez each recording a pair.
Experience is found under center for the Bulldogs with senior quarterback Jack Fulton passing for 354 yards with a trio of scores, but a 42.65 competition percentage. Fulton is dangerous as a dual-threat quarterback however, leading Poland with 450 yards on the ground on 68 touches and four touchdowns.
Sophomore Cole Fulton is someone to keep an eye on during short yardage situations as well. He’s only carried the ball eight times, with two of those opportunities resulting in a score. Senior Ross Dedo led his team with 197 yards on ten catches and two trips to the endzone.
Poland does effectively find the quarterback on defense, holding a 6-2 advantage on sacks this season, with veteran seniors Dillon Smith, Dom Parker, and Michael Gordon all recording two.
The bottom line? Whenever these two NE8 programs are on the gridiron, it’s must watch football.
“Poland is a very, very good team, and we know that we’re going to get their very best,” Yeagley said. “You wouldn’t expect anything different from a Poland team because they’ve always played hard and give it their very best week in and week out, so we know that we have to match it.
“We have to match that storm like Hubbard did and be patient, and know that we can keep on playing and hopefully we can get some points on the board and keep them out of the endzone and win the field battle to try and get some points that way.”
For the buzz surrounding such a big matchup, there’s bound to be plenty of energy felt through Dave Pavlansky Stadium this evening when the opening kick-off is held to the tune of glowing sunset and a cool fall breeze.
It’s that certain vibe that’s only found under the Friday night lights.
“The only thing that’s definitely been consistent the last four weeks, whether we’ve been a home or away, our fans have been tremendous,” Pavlansky said. “Our fans have shown up, our stands are full and the football team definitely recognizes that and greatly appreciates that.
“We look forward to another great crowd (tonight).”