The 2022 High School football season kicked off in the Mahoning Valley with a rivalry game: the Niles Red Dragons and the Howland Tigers. Howland won last year’s game 6-0 to open the season.
The first score came at the 1:22 mark in the first quarter when Niles RB Antuan Gardner capped off a 12-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. With 7:43 left in the 2nd quarter, Niles added on. The Red Dragons were methodical, as an 8 play 68-yard drive ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by quarterback Anthony Budak.
With 6:06 left in the 2nd quarter, and Howland driving, they committed the first turnover of the game fumbling on the Niles 25-yard line. Niles took over but was held to a 3 and out. Howland then fumbled for the second time in 3 minutes, this time at their own 13-yard line. But the Howland defense would hold again, as Niles would miss a 32-yard field goal. Howland had another opportunity inside the Niles 40 as the first half came to a close, but time ran out and Howland is shut out. Niles led 14-0 at half time.
Howland would finally get on the board early in the 3rd quarter on a 80-yard touchdown pass by John Perry. Howland draws within 7 and trailed Niles 14-7. The ensuing drive saw Niles drive down to the Howland 1 yard line, but the Howland defense again stood their ground on 4th and 1. But Niles would march right back down the field. Anthony Budak connected with Kristopher Hrosar for a 15 Yd touchdown pushing the Niles lead to 21-7, which ended up being the final score. Niles avenged its loss in the 2021 season opener to Howland by besting them in the first game of the season in the Mahoning Valley.
The final score was 21-7 Niles, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. It could have, and should have, been worse for Howland. Outside of their lone score on an 80-yard touchdown pass, the Tiger offense had a lot of difficulty moving the ball consistently. They had a few big plays, but ultimately stalled. Their defense stood tall on several occasions, including a goal line stand. Without the efforts of the Tiger defense, we would be talking about a game that would have been decided in Niles’ favor midway through the 3rd quarter.
Niles looked solid. They weren’t dominant and squandered some opportunities. But they got the job done. The Red Dragon defense did an excellent job from bell to bell in this game and the offense did what it needed to do. There’s definitely room for improvement for the Niles offense, but there’s potential for them to be a problem for a lot of teams in the Valley this year.
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