Stewart, Struthers steamroll Red Dragons
By Steve ruman
After having faced Hubbard’s Larry Scott and Howland’s DeVeon Smith in back-to-back weeks, Niles fans may have thought they were finally catching a break Friday night when the Red Dragons hosted Struthers.
Instead, David Stewart put on show to remember.
The Struthers senior scored five touchdowns, rushed for 248 yards, scored on a two-point conversion and — for good measure — threw a 31-yard pass. His heroics led the Wildcats to a 36-26 win over Niles at Bo Rein Stadium.
The victory puts the Wildcats (6-3, 3-2 All-American Conference, American Division) in the thick of the playoff chase. Struthers entered the night ranked 10th in Division III, Region 11. They now control their post-season fate.
“This makes Week 10 important, and Week 10 hasn’t been important to this program and this community in a long time,” Struthers coach Curt Kuntz said. “This was a big win against a very good team.”
Niles (7-2, 4-2) could have captured at least a share of the AAC American Division title and could have clinched a home playoff game with a win. Instead, it will likely surrender the top spot it held in Division III, Region 9. It also lost its AAC lead to the same Howland team it beat a week ago.
The tone of the night was set on Struthers’ first play from scrimmage. Stewart took a handoff from Gary Muntean and rambled 72 yards for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a quick 8-0 lead.
Niles answered with scores from Chris Hillier (25-yard run) and Chris Parry (16-yard reception) to take a 14-8 advantage. But Stewart scored his second TD midway through the second period, and from that point on the Red Dragons’ attempt to play catch-up was unsuccessful.
“Their running game was second to none, and we didn’t have an answer for it,” Niles coach Brian Shaner said. “(Stewart) is a phenomenal running back and their line did an outstanding job up front. You had two good football teams going at it, and we just got beat.”
With Struthers ahead 15-14 entering the second half, TDs were scored on the first five possessions of the third quarter. A 9-yard run by Stewart started the binge. That touchdown was set up by his 31-yard pass to Tommy Kimbrough (three receptions for 97 yards). Stewart later scored on a 40-yard reception from Muntean, then capped his brilliant night with a 59-yard TD run.
Niles received a pair of second-half rushing TDs from Stefan Yuhas, who gained 89 yards on 23 carries. He also threw for 174 yards, completing 12 of 22 passes.
Muntean made the most of his throws, completing 5 of 6 for 118 yards.
Struthers’ defense sealed the victory.
Yuhas was sacked eight times on the night, including five on Niles’ final two possessions.