PERRY–A keyed-up Perry Pirate squad raced out to a 22-7 halftime lead at home Friday night before cruising to a 44-22 playoff victory over the visiting Girard Indians.
The Pirate ground game proved immensely effective against the visitor’s outgunned 3-3-5 defensive alignment, with Perry’s size advantage up front enabling coach Bob Gecewich’s charges to continuously rip off big gain after big gain in the running game. Physical running backs Aidan Lefelhoc and Jadynn Anderson, as well as mobile quarterback Brayden Richards and speedy receiver Brock Sivon all chipped in with timely big plays in the rushing game throughout, keeping the Perry offense ahead of the chains and dominating time of possession.
“I thought we played a solid football game and I thought we played extremely physical and I was really proud of that,” Gecewich said after the win. “Anytime you can come into a game and get under center, run the ball a little bit, and play fast and physical defense, it’s good, especially this time of year.”
After trading failed offensive possessions on the first few drives of the game, and with the two sides still knotted up and scoreless with 3:30 left in the opening quarter, the game’s first momentum-swinging play occurred on a Girard fourth-and-goal attempt from the Perry 19 that was absolutely blown up by Anderson from his defensive end position. The explosive and imposing pass rusher beat his man with a nasty speed rush before arriving unscathed at the Indian quarterback, turning possession back over to his offense at its own 23-yard line.
A couple of plays later, sophomore quarterback Brayden Richards harnessed all that good mojo from Anderson’s big fourth-down sack and fired a rope to the streaking and wide-open Javin Richards, who hauled in the pass and accelerated 76-yards down the home sideline for the game’s opening score, sending the Perry faithful into a frenzy.
Girard would calm the storm by striking right back themselves, however, as quarterback Nic Bengala deftly found running back Michael Palmer open in the flat on 4th-and-6 from the Pirate 17, and the junior running back converted the short swing pass to even things up with 10 minutes left in the half.
Perry would convert its next two possessions to establish the two-score lead heading into halftime, the first touchdown coming on a 9-yard blast up the middle by bruising senior running back Aidan Lefelhoc, and the final score of the half cashed in on a nifty scramble around right end from Richards.
The two-point conversion attempt was successful as well, and Perry took a good deal of positive momentum into the intermission.
The Pirates received to open the second half and they wasted little time in once again riding momentum and marching right down the field via the arm and legs of Richards.
Lefelhoc would finish off the second half opening drive with his second rushing score on the night via a 19-yard rumble off-tackle, and a stop by Girard on yet another Perry two-point attempt–this one from Sivon that fell mere feet short of the goal line–left the hosts clinging to a comfy three-score advantage.
Girard would start its next drive off on the right foot via a nice pass completion on first down to get the chains moving, but a fumbled snap exchange between Bengala and his center recovered by Perry abruptly ended that drive. Anderson would soon thereafter get his first rushing touchdown on the night, blasting through the middle of the Indian front seven into the north end zone. Richards ran in the ensuing two-point conversion, making it 36-7 Perry with seven minutes left in the quarter.
Girard, though, clearly was not ready to just shuffle off quietly into the crisp November night. The Indians got the ball back and its dangerously fast signal caller Bengala exploded through the B-gap for a 47-yard touchdown run, and after recovering the onside kick, the visitors were on the move again and posing quite the threat, albeit still trailing 36-14.
After that drive was cut short by yet another Indian miscue on offense, Perry’s next drive also stalled out near midfield and the Pirates were forced to punt. Girard came back out on offense and quickly scored yet again on a long touchdown pass from Bengala to sophomore wide receiver Domenico Simone, pulling the visitors within two scores with the quarterback’s successful two-point conversion try, making it 36-22 Perry with seven minutes left.
Luckily for the home side, Richards and Co. would come back out and put together a nice long drive to ice the game, with the sophomore quarterback notching his third rushing score on the night via a 12-yard touchdown run to firmly put the game out of reach with Perry up 44-22 with only 2:20 left.
“Obviously, there are still things we’ve got to fix – there always are,” Gecewitch explained. “But at this point, you’re past the lottery round and you’re into the playoffs. Every win is a good win, and we did a lot of things we wanted to do. Right now, it’s a good feeling. I’m sure by 10:30 tonight I’ll be able to find something (about this game) to be angry about, but for now, we’ll wait until 10:30 for that.”
With the win, the fourth-seeded Pirates improved to 10-2 and will play No. 1 West Branch (12-0) on Friday in a regional semifinal at a location to be determined.