GIRARD - Girard came into Friday night's contest as the fourth-ranked Division IV team in the state. Its quarterback, Dan Graziano, was the primary reason for the Indians' 7-0 start, having amassed more than 2,100 yards.
The Campbell Memorial Red Devils left the game having proved they're a talented team as well with a pretty good quarterback of their own.
Junior Brandon Reyes threw for a career-high 373 yards (207 in the second half) and Campbell's secondary did a number on Graziano as the Devils pulled out a 42-35 victory. The win improved Campbell to 6-2 overall and 2-1 in the All-American Conference, Blue Tier. Girard is also 2-1 in the league.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael?Semple
Girard quarterback Dan Graziano (2) and offensive lineman Eric Augustine appear to be in step with one another as Graziano carries the ball?Friday night.
"This was my best game ever in the biggest game of my career," said the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Reyes. "This was a big win for us. We stuck it out and stayed together as a team."
Reyes completed 15 of 24 passes with three touchdowns and one interception. His scoring tosses were of 19 yards to Gabriel Smith, 41 yards to Braylen Wigfall and 57 yards to Anthony Rushton. His 2-yard scoring run with 1 minute, 59 seconds remaining gave the Devils a 42-28 lead.
"We thought we could throw the ball today," said Campbell coach Mickey Sikora. "Brandon made some plays with his arm and with his legs."
While Reyes, tailback Ja'les Hughes (19 carries, 134 yards and two TDs) and Smith (six receptions, 162 yards) carried the Devils' offense, their secondary was equally responsible for the win. Free safety Dewaylan Letlow seemed to make all the right reads and the rest of the defensive backs had players covered all night. Graziano completed just 4 of 15 first-half passes. Campbell's defense actually forced the throw-happy Indians away from their game in the second half as Girard threw the ball just twice.
"Campbell did a great job defensively taking our plays away," said Girard coach Nick Cochran. "Letlow did a great job. Our linemen were getting confused a little bit and we didn't trust some of our plays in the second half."
Girard took a 7-0 lead just 2:27 into the contest on a 32-yard pass from Graziano to Branden Byrd. The Devils, who did not gain a first down in their first three possessions, began clicking offensively in the second quarter. Reyes' first two touchdown passes and a 29-yard scoring run by Hughes made it 20-7.
"This is a special win for us," said Hughes, a senior. "We came out, played as a team. We knew we could get it done and we did."
The Indians got within 20-14 just 23 seconds before intermission. Graziano hooked up with tailback Ahmad Eggleston on a 51-yard screen pass. Eggleston scored four times on the night. Both of his receptions went for scores, the second one a 55-yarder with 1:45 remaining in the game which gave the Indians momentary hope before the ensuing onside kick failed.
"Ahmad was one of the few players who kept his head tonight and did his job," Cochran said. "I don't know if we can play any worse but we were still in the game. We kept fighting."
The Indians did. An onside kick to start the second half set up an Eggleston score. Moments later the hosts turned a Campbell fumble into another Eggleston TD to take a 28-20 lead. But that's as good as it got for Girard as Reyes found his groove and led the Devils to scores on the next two possessions.
Campbell finished with 520 total yards compared to 307 for the Indians. Graziano ran 25 times for 101 yards and finished 5 of 17 through the air for 154 yards.