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Niles back to the postseason

October 27, 2012
By MIKE McLAIN - Tribune Chronicle (mmclain@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

NILES - There were two big sighs of relief for the Niles McKinley Red Dragons in their regular-season finale Friday at Bo Rein Memorial Stadium.

One was for the 22-14 win over the Youngstown East Panthers. The Dragons did everything possible to give the game away early by losing three fumbles, including one on each of their first two possessions.

The other was for finally delivering a home playoff game to the community. The Dragons will host a first-round game for the first time ever Saturday against a Division III, Region 9 opponent that had to be determined as of last night.

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Niles’ Kyle Paden (19) celebreates his interception with teammates Josh Mango (20), Chris Parry (10) and Aaron Watson (3) against East on Friday night.

"I'm just glad this team has the opportunity to go out and represent Niles next week here at home," Dragons coach Brian Shaner said. "It should be a great atmosphere. I know our fans will show up. It's great to finish 8-2."

The Dragons probably would have qualified for the playoffs even with a loss, which seemed to be their mission with the fumbles. The Panthers (3-7) were stopped on downs at the Dragons' 31 after both turnovers.

"We tried to give that game away at the beginning," Shaner said. "Turnovers will kill you in high school football, but you know what? This team has been resilient. We've shot ourselves in the foot before, and we know how to come back from that. We fixed it at halftime and came back a different team in the second half."

The Dragons used the turnover weapon to their advantage by intercepting quarterback Rayfield Bell three times. Kyle Paden had the biggest interception, stepping in front of a pass in the end zone to prevent the Panthers from adding on to their 8-6 lead late in the second quarter.

"We have to throw that away," East coach Jim Vivo said. "It's the same mistakes over and over again. Nothing new."

Shaner's offensive plan was to ease the work load on quarterback Stefan Yuhas, who separated his right shoulder a week earlier against Struthers. That strategy changed in the second half when the need to move the ball on the ground became essential.

Yuhas delivered in a big way, carrying the ball 16 times in the second half for 67 of his 73 yards. He scored all three of Niles' touchdowns on runs of 3, 5 and 9 yards.

"We were supposed to run to the right with running backs mostly, but I needed to run the ball," Yuhas said. "It (the shoulder) started to feel better throughout the game."

Yuhas walked a fine line between running aggressively and making sure he didn't suffer more damage to the shoulder.

"I just tried to limit the contact to it and play through whatever pain I had," Yuhas said. "Our trainer put a donut on it to relieve the pressure from the one area on the shoulder."

Shaner has been able to rely on two consistencies from the offense this season sound blocking by a big line and Yuhas. Shaner received more than he could have hoped for last night.

"The kid is a gladiator," Shaner said. "To play that game the way he did with the shoulder injury he sustained last week is absolutely one of the gutsiest performances I've ever seen."

Derrick Tensley put East ahead with a 10-yard touchdown run at the 7:48 mark of the second quarter. The 62-yard drive came after the Dragons' third fumble. Bell threw to JuJuan Jones for the extra two points.

Niles marched 65 yards on 14 plays on the ensuing possession to score on a 3-yard run by Yuhas. The pass for the extra two points failed.

An intentionally short kick to open the second half bounced off a Panthers' defender and was recovered by Niles' Nick Lardas at the East 45. Yuhas scored on a 5-yard run seven plays later and then threw to Chris Parry for the extra two points to give Niles a 14-8 lead.

The Panthers were stopped on downs at the Dragons' 12 and 1 on their next two possessions. Paden came up with his second interception early in the fourth quarter to stop another drive at the Dragons' 46.

Yuhas' final touchdown came four plays after the Panthers were stopped again on downs at their 21. James Merchant almost came up with a deep pass from Bell on fourth down.

East added a touchdown with 2:12 remaining to play on a 46-yard pass from Bell to Taylor Johnson. Tommy Duffy recovered the onside kick for the Dragons.

"Last year when we lost in Week 10 against Hubbard, I told everybody that week 10 wasn't going to be our last game next year," Yuhas said. "It means a lot to have the first home playoff game for Niles. I couldn't imagine it being over now."

mmclain@tribtoday.com