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Niles answers the bell, runs to win over Howland

October 19, 2013
By MATT WAGNER - Tribune Chronicle (mwagner@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

NILES - Over the course of the 2013 season, the Niles Red Dragons have given people little reason to believe they are more than a pass-happy team.

Even going into Niles' game against Howland at Eastwood Mall Field at Bo Rein Stadium on Friday night, coach Brian Shaner planned to lean on the arm of Kyle Paden as he and the Red Dragons had all season.While not completely abandoning this game plan, Niles showed it does have a running attack, attempting 51 rushes for 285 yards in the Red Dragons' 50-20 rout of the Tigers.

Senior John Cicero, who had 198 of those yards on the ground and two touchdowns, said he was surprised Niles (4-4, 1-3 All-American Conference, American Division) had so much success running the ball.

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"I never would have thought that," Cicero said. "It's probably the best game I've ever had. I was glad to be a part of it."

The rushing attack received a boost before the game with the return of Josh Krok, who missed a few games with a shoulder injury.

Along with his fellow linemen, the 6-foot-9, 315-pound senior left tackle cleared out Tiger (4-4, 0-3 AAC, American) defenders, helping to open up big holes for runners. Cicero described running behind Krok as "something else."

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Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Niles’ Chris Parry makes a diving touchdown catch against Howland on Friday night. The Red Dragons won, 50-20.

"Getting Josh Krok back at left tackle, that's our running guy," Shaner said. "We get behind him, he's like a road-grater out there, and him getting healthy and coming back, we thought we'd run a little more tonight, but we didn't know we'd have this kind of success."

Establishing a running game did more than create points - it also created a large disparity in time of possession.

In the first half, the Red Dragons held the ball for 6 more minutes than the Tigers, and they recorded 47 plays on offense. In comparison, Howland had 16 offensive plays in the first half and just 38 throughout the entire game.

Because the Howland defense spent so much time on the field, the Tigers wore down in the second half, evident by the 28-unanswered points Niles scored in the final quarter-and-a-half.

"We set the tone early that we were able to run the ball, we were able to control the clock and the tempo of the game," Shaner said. "Our offensive line did a great job tonight."

The Niles defense also stepped up after a few poor performances in recent weeks to keep the Howland offense off the field.

Howland scored just one offensive touchdown and managed to get six first downs in the game. The Red Dragons took care of business on third down, as the Tigers went 1 of 9 on third-down conversions.

"We challenged them, and they came out here and answered the call," Shaner said. "Great, physical running team in Howland, and our guys were up to the task. They played a great game."

Howland had one bright spot in the form of Victor Williams.

The freshman running back and outside linebacker scored all three of Howland's touchdowns in all-three aspects of the game. He jumped a slant route on the the third play from scrimmage and returned the interception 71 yards for a score, and after Niles took a 14-6 lead at the 8:30 mark in the second quarter, he went untouched on the kickoff return to score an 87-yard touchdown.

His third touchdown capped off a seven-play, 57-yard drive to start the second half that pulled the Tigers to within two points at the 8:13 mark in the third quarter before the Red Dragons blew the game wide open.

"Victor's a special kid, a special athlete," Howland coach Dominic Menendez said. "He's only a freshman - thank God we'll have him for three more years. He's a good kid, we got to get the ball in his hands."

As for Niles, Shaner said the win is a huge answer to losses against Canfield and Hubbard the past two weeks.

"Great bounce-back win for all of Niles," Shaner said. "We had two rough weeks with two very good opponents, and to come out and play like we did tonight, my hat is off to our players."