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Poland upsets previously unbeaten Red Dragons
October 2, 2019

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If there was ever a season in which the Niles football team was going to snap its long losing streak to Poland it was this one.

The Red Dragons entered last Friday night's showdown with their Mahoning County rivals with a perfect 4-0 record. They were outscoring their opponents by a 111-56 margin as well. Poland, meanwhile, was a mediocre 2-2 with both of those losses coming over the past three weeks. Then the actual game happened. Poland rolled into Bo Rein Stadium and pummeled the heretofore unbeatable Red Dragons 31-7. The convincing win has upped Poland's season record to 3-2 and has placed the team in sole possession of first place in Northeast 8 Conference. Coupled with the Bulldogs' beat down of South Range in Week 4, this win over Niles has also wiped away the bad memory of a shaky 1-2 start to this season.

"I am very proud of how they have responded," said Poland head coach Ryan Williams about his kids. "(During the practice week) we wanted to focus on what was ahead of us. We had a really good week of practice. I was really proud of their focus."

Poland's defense showcased that focus very early in the game. It forced the high-octane Niles offense into a three and out on its first possession. On the Red Dragons' next two tries on offense, the Bulldogs forced a pair of interceptions. The first of those picks was by junior corner back Andrew Centofanti. The second was by senior corner Mitchell Kluchar. Both of those turnovers set the Bulldogs up on Niles' side of the 50-yard line. Poland was carrying a shutout all the way until the final moments of the game before the Dragons finally punctured the end zone. By that time, the referees had already started the continuous running mercy rule clock. Coach Williams was thankful for how ready defensive coordinator Rick DiNunzio and his staff had the Bulldog defenders.

"Our defense was well prepared," he said. "We were one step ahead (of Niles' offense) all night. The defense was locked in all week (in practice)."

Meanwhile the Poland offense was equally dominant. The Bulldogs' prime game plan was to keep Niles' fast playmakers off the field by controlling the football. They did that and then some by rushing for 267 yards as a team. Four plays after that initial three and out by the Dragons, Poland quarterback Jack Fulton rolled out off a fake handoff and fired a 55-yard touchdown strike to Centofanti. That marvelous play came on a third down and thirteen situation. Centofanti's interception led to a 37-yard field goal by Mike Kushner. Klucher's pick helped set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Fulton and a 17-0 Poland lead. Tailback Josh Alessi added a 10-yard touchdown to make it 24-0 at intermission. Alessi would end the game with 66 yards rushing. Jake Rutana would run for a team-high 76 yards. Fulton was an efficient 3 for 7 passing for 103 yards and he added 68 on the ground. He would total two touchdowns. The Bulldogs would tack on one more tally in the third period when senior fullback Zach Ellis pushed his way in from 14-yards away.

With back-to-back huge conference wins on their ledger, the Bulldogs will attempt to earn number three in a row this Friday night. This game, however, may prove to be the biggest challenge of the season inside the NE8. Poland will travel to Girard for the first time in forever to hook up with the 4-1 Indians. Girard is no joke on the gridiron. It is one year removed from participating in the Division IV state finals and, despite losing a lot of talented players to graduation, the Indians seemingly haven't missed a beat in 2019. In their four wins, the Indians have scored 168 points. For the season, they are averaging a whopping 30 points per game. Girard did lose to South Range last week 36-22. Of course, Poland stuck it to South Range in Week 4. Williams doesn't believe that outcome from two weeks ago has any impact on what his club is trying to accomplish in Week 6.

"Each week creates new challenges," he said. "You hope that (our kids) can keep focused on improving and making few mistakes."

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