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Shaner faces former team tonight

October 26, 2012
By MIKE McLAIN - Tribune Chronicle (mmclain@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

NILES - Brian Shaner doesn't need an in-depth scouting report on the Youngstown East Panthers to know how to attack them.

There's no need to spend long hours in film study to devise a game plan.

All Shaner has to do is jog his memory a little bit. Having previously coached the Panthers, Shaner, in his first season as coach of the Niles McKinley Red Dragons, might feel at home on either sideline tonight when the teams face off in a non-conference game at Bo Rein Stadium.

"I know them well," Shaner said. "They did a great job of getting kids out and excited about East football. I'm probably as familiar with East as I am of Poland, Howland and Canfield. I coached those young men."

There's a Division III, Region 9 playoff spot on the line for the 7-2 Red Dragons, who are coming off a 36-26 loss to Struthers. The Panthers (3-6) will close out the season.

A win would put Niles into the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 season. There are ways that the Dragons, who are currently second to Chagrin Falls in the region, could advance to the playoffs even with a loss.

"We want to believe that's a possibility," Shaner said. "I don't talk about that so that they realize the importance of the game. We want to win and have a home game. The boys deserve to play at home in the playoffs, and the community deserves it."

The Panthers have struggled in coach Jim Vivo's first year with the program. They have wins over Lincoln West, Barberton and Canfield, but the rest of a brutal schedule that includes Ursuline, Cleveland Heights, Akron Ellet, St. Thomas Aquinas, Austintown Fitch and Poland has taken a toll.

"They're the most-athletic team we've seen," Shaner said. "They have great athletes. One thing that people don't mention is how big they are. Their offensive line is massive. They probably play one of the toughest schedules in the state of Ohio."

The last time the Dragons faced a team similar to the Panthers, the result was a 43-14 loss to the Hubbard Eagles. Hubbard challenged Niles in terms of size up front, while also adding a strong dose of athleticism.

"We haven't faced a team with this kind of skill to this point," Shaner said. "It will take a perfect effort to get a win. They cause matchup problems on the field.

"I think Hubbard is very similar. We learned a lesson there. We had to re-evaluate some of the things we did against Hubbard. We can't play that kind of football against East."

The Dragons have been a model of inconsistency in recent weeks. After the loss to Hubbard, Niles rebounded to stage what might have been its best performance of the season in a 17-10 win over the Howland Tigers. That was followed by the defeat to Struthers.

"We knew this would be a tough stretch," Shaner said. "We knew at the beginning that our success would be challenged here at the end. We have to find a way to get one more win."

It would be difficult to believe that the game doesn't have a special meaning to Shaner. He considers his move from East to Niles a win-win for both teams.

"It was a crossroads (for me)," Shaner said. "It was time for a change for East and myself. I think the Niles program might have needed a little bit of new life, and so did East. It's worked out for the best for both of us."

mmclain@tribtoday.com