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Poland boys bound into regional final after shutting down Redskins

November 20, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

After laying waste to pretty much every opponent over the past eight weeks, the Poland football team faced its sternest challenge last Saturday night in Salem.

Poland's boys battled 10-1 Wintersville Indian Creek in the Division IV, Region 13 regional semifinals. A quick start gave the second seeded Bulldogs a 14-0 lead after one quarter. They would outscore the Redskins 21-0 the remainder of the contest to come away with an impressive 35-0 shutout victory. The 10-2 Bulldogs now advance to play unbeaten Perry in the regional finals next Saturday night at Austintown Fitch Stadium. The winner of that number one versus number two showdown will get a ticket into the state Final Four.

Poland's plan as the playoffs commenced was to win the battle along the interior lines. Sure, the Bulldogs had been racking up points over most of their previous seven games but winning that way in the freezing temperatures of November would not be as easy. Poland provided plenty of defensive muscle in its shutout triumph over Struthers in Week 11. It also smashed the ball down Struthers' throats. That same formula was used against the Redskins last weekend. Three of the Bulldogs' first four touchdowns came via the ground game. Senior running back Josh Alessi accounted for all of them. His first one came in the first quarter when he popped in from 1-yard out to stake the Bulldogs to a 7-0 lead. That short sneak in was possible because of a muffed snap on an Indian Creek punt that gave Poland the ball near the goal line. Alessi added a 16-yard run later in the first period to make it 14-0 in favor of the Bulldogs. He would cap his huge first half with a 6-yard run 1:45 before halftime. All totaled, Alessi would hammer the Indian Creek defense for 155 yards on 27 bruising carries. The Bulldogs as a team amassed nearly 300 yards rushing.

Before the Bulldogs' star rusher ran in for his third touchdown, the local kids got into the end zone through the air. Sophomore quarterback Jack Fulton flung a 37-yard touchdown pass to slippery receiver Andrew Centofanti, who out-muscled a Redskin defensive back for the ball, possessed the pigskin, then slithered the final 8 yards to paydirt. Fulton would finish with 80 yards passing and he ended the game with two touchdown tosses when he hooked up with senior tight end Michael Voitus from 22 yards out with a little less than five minutes remaining in the contest.

Voitus was also one of the Poland kids who plastered the Redskins on defense. Indian Creek possess one of the most dangerous rushers in Division IV in Trevor Fante. The senior entered the playoffs with 1456 yards rushing this season, but the Bulldogs' defense led by Voitus held the super back to 30 yards on a dozen carries. Poland's powerful defensive lineman also had a sack and made numerous other tackles. He, along with a few of his defensive mates, really caught the eye of head coach Ryan Williams.

"Michael Voitus made a ton of plays on the defensive line," said Williams. "I thought Jake Kountz and Alex Feliciano also had great games up front. Jake Rutana and Nathan Tucker also played their tails off."

All of these dogs better play with their tails wagging wildly if they are to upend the 12-0 Pirates. Perry has been perfect thanks to an offense that has averaged a little more than 44 points per game this year. The Pirates eclipsed 60 points twice and even had a game in which they totaled 71 points. They've nailed Girard and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy by a total combined score of 85-21 in their first two postseason wins. Coach Williams realizes that sinking the Pirates' ship will be a massive chore.

"We're excited to play Perry," he said. "They're the top seed and the real deal. They have an explosive offense and we'll have some work to do."

This will be the first time since 2014 in which the Bulldogs have advanced to a regional title game. That year, Poland was doubled up by Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 20-10. If their defense is once again able to do a number on the opposing running game, then the Bulldogs will have a great shot to avenge that loss from five seasons ago.

 
 

 

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