The Niles McKinley Red Dragons will make their second road trip in as many weeks Friday when they travel to Columbiana County to take on Beaver Local. Friday's game marks the All-American Conference (Red Division) lid-lifter for both ball clubs.
Niles will enter the contest with a 2-1 mark, while Beaver Local (0-3) is looking for its first win of the season.
Conference play has been a struggle for both clubs. Since the formation of the AAC in 2008, Beaver Local is 0-8 in league play. Niles is 2-6, with its only wins coming against the Beavers.
This will be the seventh meeting between the Red Dragons and the Beavers. Niles leads the series 4-2.
Trailing 21-20 with 1:44 remaining in the game, Niles drove 86 yards in 11 plays to defeat Beaver Local 28-21.
Niles scored the winning touchdown on a one-yard run by Darius Harris, who took a handoff from Bryceton Baker, swept to his left, then turned upfield to plow through defenders and cross the goal line. The final play of the drive occurred with on a second-and-goal situation with 18 second remaining, and Niles out of timeouts.
Beaver Local grabbed a 7-0 lead on its first series, thanks in large part to a Niles fumble on its first play from scrimmage. The Beavers had to travel just 28 yards after the turnover. The short drive was capped by a Ricky May one-yard run.
In the early stages of the second quarter, the Beavers offense was again given a short field thanks to a Jared Britt interception. This time, a 33-yard drive ended with a May two-yard plunge, giving the Beavers a 14-0 advantage in the early stages of the second quarter.
Niles found paydirt on its next possession via a 43-yard touchdown run by Blake Robinson. On the night, the junior rushed for 113 yards and two TD s, and pulled in five passes one for a score for 62 yards.
Trailing 14-7 at halftime, Niles quickly gained momentum in the second half when Nick Lucariello recovered a fumble on the opening drive of the third quarter. Niles responded with a 46-yard drive, which ended with a Blake five-yard run to tie the game at 14-14.
The two teams then traded fourth-quarter touchdowns, but Niles' point-after kick was blocked and the Red Dragons trailed 21-20 with 5:09 remaining in the contest.
Baker completed 9-of-18 passes for 160 yards. He was 5-for-8 during the game-winning drive.
Brad Yeager is in his third season as the Niles coach. He owns an 8-15 mark.
Rich Wright is in his 13th year with the Beavers. He owns a career record of 81-51. Under Wright, Beaver Local has recorded three 10-0 seasons, and it has reached the playoffs six times. The Beavers last advanced to post-season play in 2005, when they finished with an 8-3 mark. Since then, it has been a struggle. Beaver Local finished 6-4 in 2006, then a year later Wright experienced his first losing record (3-7). The Beavers finished 4-6 in '08, and last year they were a dismal 1-9.
SCOUTING THE BEAVERS
The Beaver Local roster includes 19 lettermen and 13 seniors.
Offensively, Beaver Local is guided by senior quarterback Evan Schneider. As a junior, Schneider started all 10 games, and finished 76 of 150 for 901 yards and eight touchdowns. Schneider's favorite target is Jared Pirl, who finished last season with 30 catches for 323 yards and a touchdown. Pirl is flanked by junior Ryan Smith and senior Trevor Householder. The Beavers' running game features five backs who all receive considerable playing time, led by three-year starter Ricky May.
Defensively, the line includes two-year starters Bobby Mercer, Tyler Givens and Rob Miller. Mercer combines strength (he benches over 400 pounds) and speed (4.5 40-yard dash) which is gaining the attention of a number of college scouts.
The Beavers also have experience in the linebacking corps in May, Schneider and Lyle Jennings. In the secondary, Jared Britt and Pirl bring experience to an otherwise young group.
Beaver Local opened its season with a 16-10 double-overtime loss to arch-rival East Liverpool. The Beavers were then handled by Crestview, 41-7. This past Friday, they fell to Struthers 20-12.
Against the Wildcats, Schneider ran and threw for a touchdown, finishing the game with 113 yards passing. May rushed for 79 yards and caught a pair of passes for 31 yards.
The Beavers struggled on special teams against Struthers. They had a punt and an extra point blocked, and also missed an extra point after a penalty negated a successful two-point conversion. Beaver Local finished with 280 yards on offense, but squandered several scoring chances.
Entering its game against Coventry, Niles hadn't scored more than a single touchdown in seven of its previous eight games dating back to 2009. In their last five games, the Red Dragons had scored just 20 points.
However, all of that changed against the Comets.
With the coaching staff deciding to focus on the running game, Niles erupted for 572 total yards in a 40-24 trouncing of the Comets. Senior Reggie Wells rolled up 325 rushing yards, including touchdown runs of 2, 71, 58 and 91 yards. As a team, the Dragons racked up 429 yards on the ground.
Wells gained 303 yards before intermission, and finished the night with a 16.25 yards-per-carry average.
Mike Watson added 102 yards receiving on four catches, including a 55-yarder from Zack Bailey in the third quarter which gave Niles a 34-3 lead. Tommy Duffy (79 yards on nine carries) had a 56-yard scoring run for the Dragons' final points of the night.
Niles coach Brad Yeager:
"We just went back to the drawing board and decided that we needed to redefine who we were offensively. We decided that we have the right personnel to make us a running team first if given the right opportunity. Friday's performance was a huge confidence boost. Our offensive line includes two sophomores, and I think they discovered that they have the ability to help trigger some big plays."
"Beaver Local will be a big challenge. Up front they're bigger than us. They'll try to run right at you, not around you. They'll smack you in the jaw. They have a tendency to run, run, run..then they'll lull you to sleep and hit you with the big pass."
"Coach Wright has proven that he's a winner. You can't look at their record and assume anything because Beaver Local always comes ready to play."
Beaver Local coach Rich Wright:
"Against Struthers we kind of shot ourselves in the foot a few times and that hurt us. We didn't play real well on special teams and we have to fix that. Struthers also had some speed which we had a tough time containing."
"Two weeks ago against Crestview we didn't play with composure. (Against Struthers) probably for 41 minutes we had some composure. There is about seven minutes that we have got to work on. We just have to keep plugging away. Our kids still practice hard, and that's all you can ask."
"We lost to Niles last year in the final seconds. Both teams have a lot of kids back, so it should be a dogfight."
DOWN THE ROAD
Following Friday's game at Beaver Local., Niles will play its third consecutive road game when it visits AAC rival Poland. On Oct. 1 the Red Dragons return home to host Brookfield. That game will be Senior Band Night. A week later, Girard visits Bo Rein Stadium on Hall of Fame Night.