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Struthers sticks to plan, beats Niles

October 26, 2013
By KAYLA HANUSCHAK - Tribune Chronicle correspondent (sports@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

STRUTHERS - The Struthers Wildcats are reminding spectators this year that they are a force to be reckoned with.

On the first four plays from scrimmage, junior Luke Witkowski ran for 68 yards, earning a first down on each carry. By the end of the contest against Niles on Friday night, he rushed the ball 15 times for 124 yards in Struthers' highest scoring game of the season, 49-19, on Laddie Fedor Field to improve its record to 7-2.

"The play calling was really good," Witkowski said. "They were runs up the middle. They did a really great job."

Coach Curt Kuntz and his coaching staff procured a game plan that they knew would be the best way for their team to be triumphant - and it started on special teams.

"The plan was just to kick it short and cover or make them fair catch it or if they didn't make a play on it we had a chance to get it," Kuntz said. "Brandon Kish, he's a senior and he's been doing a good job of putting the ball where we need it. He can go deep if we need to. He's doing all of the things that we need him to do."

The game appeared to be a good match in the beginning. By the end of the first quarter, the score was only 7-0 pointing in the direction of the Wildcats. Then early second quarter, Niles senior receiver Marcus Hill caught a 32-yard pass from senior quarterback Kyle Paden for a touchdown, evening the score.

On the very next series for Struthers, junior Nick Pollifrone, who rushed 12 times for 90 yards, ran for a 5-yard touchdown and sophomore Anthony Malone kicked the extra point, putting the Wildcats at the advantage.

"Nick Pollifrone is probably the most special kid I've coached in 17 years," Kuntz said. "He's played guard for us, quarterback, tailback, fullback, linebacker, safety, it doesn't matter. He just wants to win and do whatever is best for the team. He's a 4.0 student and we couldn't ask any more of what he does on and off the field. He's a special kid."

But luck was not on the Dragons side. The ensuing punt from the Wildcats went live and ended up back in the hands of Struthers defensive lineman, Austin Yemma. That turnover ended up in another touchdown for their opponent. Coach Brian Shaner explained that the judgment that was shown was not their best.

"I just want to say, it was maybe a brain freeze on our part not to fair catch the ball and take the ball where it was kicked," Shaner said, whose team is 4-5. "Again, maybe they caught us off guard. Hats off to Struthers."

Niles never let up though. In the fourth quarter, passes from Paden made it to the end zone, earning touchdowns for senior Chris Parry and Hill. Paden racked up 336 passing yards.

"Our guys are never going to quit," Shaner said. "They are going to keep playing and that's why we leave them in there and we have to build on something. We have another game left. We want to go out on a positive note with our seniors. We had to have a little success here in the end and these Niles kids will never quit. They are always going to play hard for us.

"They did a great job. Great coaching staff, great team. I mean, they are going to playoffs for a reason. They ran a great scheme on defense and kind of got us out of what we like to do. Very physical football team and I wish them well in the playoffs."

Are the playoffs really in the Wildcat's future though? According to Kuntz he is taking it day by day.

"We have to get back here on Monday," Kuntz said. "We play a great program in Howland, so that is where our focus is 100 percent on. We have to take care of Week 10 and figure it out from there. From where we are, we haven't been in the playoffs for about 15 years or so and Howland has been in every year for the last 10 or so. We're not even saying the playoff-word right now. We are just worried about getting better in the next five days of practice and getting ready to give our best shot against Howland."

Witkowski is holding on to the playoff-word for his squad this year.

"We feel like we are there," Witkowski said.

"Sometimes they don't play with the confidence they need but when they play with confidence, they can run with anybody," Kuntz said. "They've done it all year. Although, aside from the Hubbard game, I think they've played eight pretty good games. Those eight games, we hung our hat on them."