UNIONTOWN - The field at Blue Streak Stadium sits in a gulley, a good 50 feet below the entrance level. It almost looks like someone dug a huge hole and decided to build an arena around it.
The hole Girard dug itself Nov. 14 was even deeper.
The Indians' remarkable season ended in unceremonious fashion at yesterday's Division IV regional semifinal. A combination of Girard mistakes and Woodridge's relentless pressure on quarterback Adam Charles led to a 20-0 halftime lead for the Bulldogs (10-2). In true champion's form the Indians tried hard to battle back before succumbing 34-20.
"Obviously it was a heck of a season," said Girard coach Bud McSuley. "I'm so proud of our kids; we had the first unbeaten (regular) season in school history. The community everyone was behind us 100 percent. The new stadium they gave us The kids played hard. They never, ever quit."
The Tribe's mettle was tested early and often against a Woodridge team that seemed to have the perfect blitz package against a powerful passing attack. Charles was sacked five times on the night (all in the first half) and pressured or hit countless others.
The game did not begin well for Girard. On its opening offensive play, Landon Smith dropped a pass which had 80-yard touchdown written all over it. Woodridge's opening drive was a 97-yard touchdown march which ended with a 21-yard pass from Anthony Westren to Brandyn Peters. The Indians marched deep into Bulldog territory immediately after the first score before Charles, throwing under pressure, was intercepted by Anthony Kelly, who then returned it 97 yards to make the score 14-0. Before the half ended, Kelly scored on a 30-yard run, part of a 36-carry, 141-yard day.
"We watched a lot of film and every time teams got pressure on the quarterback, (the passing game) was off," said 5-foot-9, 167-pound junior linebacker Marcus Thompson. "It's the first time I've ever had this many sacks before. It's also my first time talking to the media."
To make things even more difficult, the Indians (11-1) were penalized seven times for 65 yards in the opening half.
"That first half was a nightmare," McSuley said. "We have all those penalties, a (97-) yard interception return, a big run where we fumbled at the end, and we must have dropped four or five passes."
"Our plan was to put pressure on their quarterback," said Woodridge coach Eric Ervin. "It seemed like hardly anybody had put pressure on (Charles). And when they did bring heat, he got a little bit rattled."
Bringing heat would have made most high-school seniors gun shy. But Charles kept plugging. His 75-yard, third quarter run got the Indians within 20-6. Charles finished the contest 109 yards on the ground and 188 through the air, though he completed just 13 of 33 with two interceptions and one touchdown.
Following Charles' TD run, Woodridge fumbled the kickoff and Dan Graziano fell on it at the 19. Four plays later Ahmad Eggleston scored from a yard out. Charles then hit Michael Floravit for a two-point conversion to get the Indians within 20-14.
Then came the most important possession of the night. After seeing a three-score lead dwindle down to six points, the Bulldogs put the ball in the hands of Kelly, who broke the single-season school rushing record this year. He carried three times for 46 yards on a 62-yar drive, including the final 10 which made it 27-14 at the end of the third quarter.
"Obviously, Anthony Kelly is a weapon," Ervin said. "He is a very violent runner. In these types of games, in the second half, you have to be able to move the chains."
Girard outgained Woodridge 486-321 but three turnovers and 100 yards in penalties negated that. Tallen Birmingham paced the Indians with 135 yards on 11 carries.
Woodridge will face Chagrin Falls next week. Chagrin handed the bulldogs one of their two losses earlier this year, 32-26.
The only problem was the drive came against Girard's second-string defense. The first-team was already on the sideline celebrating what would be a dominant, 42-7, victory in a Division IV, Region 13 quarterfinal game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Girard, which plays Peninsula Woodridge on Nov. 7 at a site to be determined, was better in every aspect of the game. The Indians (11-1) passed for 211 yards, ran for 241, held the Royals (7-4) to 161 total yards and had five different players score. The game ended like every other Girard home game this year, with the Indians up by a lot.
''They have a very good football team, and really we had trouble matching up,'' CVCA coach Ray Carroscia said. ''They threw the ball real well at the beginning of the game, and then they got hats on people, got us blocked and moved the ball on the ground as well. Their coaches had a great game plan and their kids executed it very well. They played outstanding.''
Girard senior quarterback Adam Charles led the Indians straight down the field on the opening possession. He completed 3-of-4 passes on the drive for 55 yards and then handed off to running back Tallen Birmingham for a 2-yard score. Girard's offense took advantage of a CVCA secondary that was starting two freshmen, and Charles, who finished 16-of-25 for 198 yards and a touchdown, didn't make many mistakes.
''They were only rushing three, but they were giving us stuff on the perimeter, so we took advantage of it,'' Girard coach Bud McSuley said. ''Whatever weaknesses we see, we try to take advantage of, and that's what we've been doing for 13 years now. Our coaches do a great job preparing our kids, and we executed tonight.''
The Indians fumbled a punt after holding CVCA to a three-and-out, and the Royals recovered. Yet, the player who fumbled, Landon Smith, quickly redeemed himself by making a big hit on CVCA's Howard Bollar, which caused a fumble that the Indians recovered. Girard capitalized on the turnover by driving 57 yards on nine plays. Charles again sparked the offense, capping the drive by hitting Dominic Morgan on a 16-yard touchdown pass in which Morgan made a player miss and dove into the end zone.
''We knew they were fundamentally sound on getting to their spots, we just had to find holes in the defense and get open,'' said Morgan, who finished with eight catches for 97 yards, all in the first half. ''Adam's good at finding the open man - he's been doing it all year.''
The Indians won the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The defense had four sacks, and the offensive line didn't allow any on Charles. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Charles did suffer a minor hand injury midway through the second quarter on a designed run play for the quarterback. He came out for a play, but that didn't stop Girard. Back-up QB Dan Graziano faked a handoff and darted up the middle for a 31-yard touchdown. Charles returned and added a 1-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter to make it, 28-0, at the half.
''The offensive line was the key to the game tonight,'' McSuley said. ''The offensive and defensive lines both controlled the line of scrimmage. (Charles) had time to throw the ball, our receivers found some open windows and they made plays down the field.''
The Indians turned to the running game in the second half after throwing the ball for much of the first. Birmingham finished with two scores, sophomore Ahmad Eggleston led Girard with 90 yards, all in the second half, and a 26-yard TD, and Charles added 82 yards. It was an all-around effort by a team that looked poised to make a run in the postseason.
''Carlos Eggleston, Matt Lester, Raymond Byrd, Aaron Jennings, Jake Reddinger and Craig Frankford, those guys played awesome,'' senior linebacker Mike Stacchiotti said of the defensive linemen. ''It really opened things up and allowed me to make some plays, and it kept people off me. They were amazing.''