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Girard earns big win, beats Struthers

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Girard junior quarterback Nic Bengala runs for a gain on Friday against Struthers. Bengala and junior Michael Palmer combined for all four Girard touchdowns.

GIRARD — It may have been Girard’s senior night, but it was junior Michael Palmer who stole the show, rushing for 158 yards and two scores in a 31-12 win over Struthers Friday.

In what was most likely the last home game of the season for Girard, the Indians overcame a few mental lapses early in the second half to completely take control.

“It was a huge game for this team, for this community and for this program,” Girard coach Pat Pearson said. “We’ve been battling these last three weeks and we’ve been getting better and better. I’m just so proud and happy for these kids, proud and happy for the seniors. The seniors have had a heck of a run the last four years.

“I’m glad we could send them off with a win at home and it’s one more step hopefully to our goal of trying to become a playoff team.”

The road to becoming a playoff team has been anything but easy for the Indians. Girard has its fourth different player under center this season in Nic Bengala, who shifted from wide receiver after a series of injuries, and went 18-of-23 on the night for 162 yards. Bengala ran for an additional 100 yards and two scores.

The duo of Bengala and Palmer were a pair of workhorses for Girard, scoring all four touchdowns.

Palmer helped put the game on ice with a 75-yard touchdown rush that was called back due to a hold. Just a few plays later, he broke away again, rushing for 70 yards and putting the Indians on the doorstep of a touchdown. His efforts were rewarded as Palmer closed out the drive strolling into the endzone from a yard out.

“Right back at it,” Palmer said. “You can’t take any plays off. If you want to be great, you’ve got to do it every time. There’s no excuses. I know everyone else is busting their butts and working hard every play, so I’d feel bad if I took one off. I give it everything I got every single time.”

Palmer has been a perfect embodiment of what Pearson wants the Girard program to strive to be.

“He’s heart and soul,” Pearson said. “He just works his butt off. Comes to practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, does the same thing. He ran for a 75-yard touchdown, there was a holding call and it comes back, so he runs for another 70 yards right after. He’s just an unbelievable kid. I love him to death.”

A costly fumble and a few mistakes sunk the Wildcats. To coach John Bayuk, Girard isn’t a team you can do that against.

“I told the kids last week after our game that penalties and turnovers, we can’t make those mistakes because they’re just backbreakers,” he said. “Against a good team like these guys, they’re going to execute off of your penalties and turnovers and that’s what they did. They played a great game and we have to limit our mistakes in order to execute better.”

The game had huge playoff implications on both sides, with both teams entering the game with a 4-4 record. While the Indians – now 5-4 – will enter the final week of the regular season with a little extra breathing room, they’re still treating Week 10 against Niles like it’s do or die.

“There’s no comfort at all, Week 10 is going to be a huge game,” Pearson said. “Niles is an unbelievable program and we’ve got to get going, but I’m just proud of our kids. They came out and executed the game plan against a really good Struthers team. Those guys played their butts off.”

Struthers (4-5) is in a do or die spot in Week 10 as they travel to archrival Poland to take on the Bulldogs.

“We’re going to go in tomorrow morning and prepare like we do every other week,” Bayuk said. “Every week is a playoff week, so it’s a big week for us. We’ve got to mentally prepare tomorrow and then next week is just like any other week. There’s a lot more on the line, but we have to act like it’s business as usual for us.”

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