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Hubbard shakes off early Niles score to win 48-13

NILES — For a brief moment, it appeared as though Niles might have caught Hubbard looking ahead to its week 10 showdown against South Range.

Hubbard entered Friday’s road game against the Red Dragons with a perfect 8-0 mark, but it was Niles that made an early statement. After Hubbard was stopped on a three-and-out on the game’s opening possession, Niles needed just two plays to take a quick lead.

Niles sophomore running back Antuan Gardner rambled off a 54-yard run on Niles’ first offensive play from scrimmage, and that was followed by a Gardner one-yard touchdown run to give Niles a 6-0 lead.

But if Hubbard was looking ahead, the Eagles quickly regained focus.

Hubbard would immediately erase its deficit, then go on to score on its next five possessions en route to a 48-13 win over the Red Dragons at Bo Rein Stadium.

The victory lifts Hubbard’s record to 9-0, including a perfect 6-0 mark in the Northeast-8 Conference standings. It also sets up a week 10 showdown against South Range, also 9-0 and with a 6-0 league record.

“We absolutely weren’t looking ahead, we have way too much respect for Niles, its program and coaches,” said Hubbard coach Brian Hoffman. “Niles has some nice talent, and we saw that tonight. They simply hit us with a big play early but our kids responded.”

In fact, Hubbard needed just one play to take the lead for good. Following Niles’ touchdown, Ben Wilcox took a handoff on the first play of Hubbard’s next possession and ran 45 yards to paydirt. A Kyle Walker extra point gave the Eagles a 7-6 lead.

Hubbard scored its next touchdown on a 23-yard pass from Nikolas Hendrix to Landon Bates. Then the Eagles turned to their running game for the rest of the night.

Senior running back T.C. Caffey led the way for the Eagles, rushing for 237 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. Caffey went over the 2,000-yard mark for the year on a 10-yard run in the latter stages of the first quarter. He has now rushed for 2,221 yards this season.

“What can you say, TC is a special player, he’s a special person,” Hoffman said. “He has earned everything that has come his way this year. He works unbelievably hard to achieve this level of success.”

Hubbard’s offense was also sparked by Bates, who rushed for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Ben Wilcox rushed for 48 yards and a TD on just three carries.

Bates was inserted into the quarterback role shortly after he caught the touchdown pass from Hendrix.

“We just saw some things on film this week that we thought might work, we wanted to throw some wrinkles into the offense,” Hoffman said. “It’s nice to have players who can compliment TC, it really opens things up. We had a lot of players step up offensively and our offensive line did a great job.”

Niles was led by Gardner, who rushed for 209 yards on 22 carries.

“Gardner is a special talent, he really challenged our defense tonight,” Hoffman siad. “He had some big runs which we don’t like to see, but overall our defense did a nice job.”

Niles falls to 4-4. The Red Dragons entered the night 16th in Division III, region 9. The Red Dragons will close the season next Friday with a home game against Girard.

“We still have a chance at a winning season, we have a chance to send the seniors out on a special note and we’re still very much alive for the playoffs,” said Niles coach Jim Parry. “There’s a lot on the table, it’s exciting to be playing for something in week ten.”

“Tonight we just ran into a really good team. We wanted to force someone other than Caffey beat us. He had his usual big night but Hubbard proved they have a lot of weapons.”

As for next week’s showdown between Hubbard and South Range, Hoffman acknowledged the game will garner the attention of football fans throughout the state.

“You couldn’t write a better script,” Hoffman said. “We’ll be well prepared, and no doubt (South Range coach) Dan Yeagley will have his team ready.”

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