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Undefeated teams South Range and Girard set to face off

Correspondent photo / Michael Taylor Girard running back Michael Palmer celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Lakeview.

While it’s still September, Friday’s tilt between Girard and South Range has major implications for who will don the Northeast-8 crown at season’s end. The two are the lone unbeatens remaining in the conference and Indians coach Pat Pearson expects a good battle between the two.

“We’ve got an older, more experienced group this year,” Pearson said. “We had like seven starters that (were injured and) didn’t play in that game last year. Those guys played the game as sophomores. I think they’re a good match for us. Two hungry teams. Two older-led, senior-led groups. They’ve got good speed, we’ve got good speed. They play really tough D, we play really tough D. They give us a really good matchup and it’s going to come down to who’s going to make more plays and who’s going to make less mistakes Friday night.”

South Range beat Girard last season 41-14 on its way to another perfect regular season, but

Girard is off to its best start since 2017, where the team went 10-2 on the season.

This year’s group, highlighted by seniors Nic Bengala and Michael Palmer, has dominated thus far. The most points they’ve surrendered this year is to Streetsboro (24) and the least points they’ve scored offensively this year came against Jefferson (21).

Bengala has been an absolute force under center, averaging around 225 yards-per-game through the air and just shy of 100 more on the ground. With nine total touchdowns, the senior under center will be a player to keep an eye on.

South Range has had a good start to the year as well, with a similar streak of outscoring the opposition. With exception to the Raiders’ 10-point victory over Struthers, where South Range scored 23 points, the Raiders have scored over 30 in their other four contests.

The key to the game for the Raiders is simple. Shut down the Girard offense.

“We have to get stops,” Raiders coach Dan Yeagley said. Our offense has been playing well. They’ve been moving the ball to get the ball in the endzone. Our defense has to get stops and then they have to get us the ball back, get the offense the ball back and they’ve been doing a good job of it and they have to continue doing that. They have to swarm tackle, make them punt. Get a turnover do something they just got to get us the ball back and that’s sort of your plan going in as you know. We got to get the change of possessions and hopefully that works out tomorrow night for us.”

While noting the team has been battling some inconsistencies this year, Yeagley chalks it up to coaching high schoolers and thinks after taking down Poland 48-0 last week, things are back on the right track.

“The kids are playing well. They’re playing as a team a little inconsistently,” Yeagley said. “We haven’t got that consistency that we need yet to keep on going and that’s something we’ve been working on and working on. Doing the little things right is very, very important, but they’ve been growing. They’ve been growing as a team, growing as individuals and playing well. Last week we played probably the best football that we played all year so far. We’re going in the right direction.

“The problem is you’ve got this team like Girard, who is very, very good and very well-coached and has a lot of great players on it.”

The praise for each other’s teams cuts both ways.

In Pearson’s words, South Range is less of a football team and more of a machine. It seems no matter who or how many are on that roster, the results are the same.

“Coach Yeagley does an unbelievable job,” Pearson said. “That team looks like a carbon copy almost every year. The numbers on the jerseys change, but it’s the same result. They do a great job. They play extremely hard. They’re very tough, physical, can make big plays on offense or can grind it out and their defense is all over the field. They fly around and they get to the football. The standard that they’ve set for the last 20-30 years and they do an unbelievable job with it.”

Girard is looking for its first win over South Range since the inception of the Northeast-8. This Indians squad has all the makings of a team that can do it, but it’s going to come down to playing a clean game. For either team, any little mistake could easily spell doom.

“I think it’s easy to make mistakes,” Pearson said. “Whether it be giving up big plays as a mistake or, maybe a holding call, there’s a mistake or obviously a turnover. I think a team that makes less mistakes (wins) because both teams are going to play hard. Both teams can do things. I think the team that has the cleanest game and makes less mistakes in all three phases of the game (wins the game).”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Girard’s Arrowhead Stadium.

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