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Bulldogs beat unbeaten Pirates, advance to state semifinals

November 25, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

It's like clockwork; every 20 years the Poland football team will advance to the state Final Four.

For the third straight week in the post season the Bulldogs played pulverizing defense and held the heretofore high-powered Perry offense well below its season average. Poland upended the previously unbeaten Pirates 17-13 to capture the Division IV, Region 13 championship at Fitch Falcon Stadium last Saturday evening. It marks the first time since 1999 that the Poland kids will advance this far in the state playoffs. Head coach Ryan Williams' club now gets its licks at 13-0 l Licking Valley in the state semifinals this Saturday at 7 p.m. in Massillon.

Perry may have been the top seed in Region 13, but it was the Bulldogs who played like the better team in Austintown. The Pirates did score the first touchdown of the game in the first quarter to jump out to a 7-0 lead. The local guys would then score the following fourteen points. Quarterback Jack Fulton plowed in from a yard out behind his well-blocking offensive line to tie the game at seven apiece. Then, a 10-play 49-yard drive by the Bulldogs was capped by a touchdown run by tailback Josh Alessi. That score would stake Poland to a 14-7 lead. Alessi plundered the Pirates for over 100 yards rushing in the first half alone. He ended the night with 180 yards on 34 bruising carries. Perry had a chance to knot the score right before halftime, but a fumble inside Poland's red zone thwarted that opportunity. That loose pigskin was recovered by Poland linebacker Peyton Mrakovich. The late half fumble was one of many mistakes forced on the formerly perfect Pirates by the punishing Poland defensive unit.

"Our defense was special," said Williams. "Our defensive backs made a lot of plays and our defensive line got some heat on their quarterback. Our linebackers played solid too. It was a great team effort."

That effort was so great that the Pirates didn't score their second touchdown until the final seconds of the game ticked away. That means the Bulldogs' defense held a team that was averaging nearly 45 points per game scoreless for about 40 minutes of game time. As amazing as Coach Williams believed his defense was last weekend, he also gave a shout out to an unforeseeable force for aiding his team's cause.

"We got a little help with the way it was raining," said Williams about the inclement weather that was prevalent throughout the evening. "We were praying for (the bad weather) and it certainly helped when you're playing a great team with an outstanding offense like Perry."

Williams' boys will be battling another outstanding offense in the state semis. The Panthers will enter the Final Four undefeated mostly because they scored an average of 36 points per game in 2019. Conversely, they've only allowed 115 points total this season. That total includes giving up just 26 points in three playoff victories. The latest of those post season triumphs was a dominating 22-6 performance over Bloom-Carroll in the regional championship last week.

No doubt it will behoove the Bulldogs to once again control both lines of scrimmage and use their powerful rushing attack to keep the quick Panthers' offense off of the field. Another assist from Mother Nature wouldn't hurt either.

Playing this late into November means that the Poland boys will be spending part of their Thanksgiving on the practice field. Their coach has no problem delaying his date with the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and pumpkin pie.

"I've always wanted to have a practice on Thanksgiving," said Williams. "That means we're having a great season."

If Williams' team eliminates its second straight unbeaten opponent, then they will face the winner of the other semifinal game between Cincinnati Wyoming and Clyde in the state championship on Dec. 7.

 
 

 

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