QB Leonard has hand
in three Niles TDs
By John Bassetti
After a steady exchange of mostly sustained drives, Niles came up with the game’s final two touchdowns to defeat neighboring rival Howland, 35-21, on Thursday.
Travis Molnar scored twice and finished with 115 yards on 25 carries for the winners, who out-gained the visiting Tigers on the ground, 188-38, and 171-119 in the air as quarterback Zack Leonard completed 13 of 20 passes. Molnar and David Mays were the recipients of Leonard’s two TD pass, while Leonard also scored once via run.
For Howland, David Burman III was 9 of 15 for 119 yards and the 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior also tallied a TD with his legs. Howland, which also lost to the Red Dragons in 2018, 28-6, got non-scrimmage TDs on William Hines’ 90-yard kickoff return and Garrett Deemer’s 35-yard fumble recovery return.
After Deemer’s fumble return TD to tie the score at 21 midway through the third quarter, Howland had a pair of three-and-out series, while Niles finally scored to take the lead for good, 28-21, on Molnar’s 5-yard run with 6:10 to play.
Niles had good field position when it got the ball on Howland’s 40 and covered the distance in six plays to go ahead 28-21.
”Howland kept fighting all night and we couldn’t seem to get any cushion,” Niles coach Jim Parry said. “We’d get up, then they’d come back and make a play, whether it was a special teams play or a turnover. We wanted to get the lead and get out to two scores, but we just weren’t able to do that [until the final six minutes].”
Blocking for Molnar was key.
“We’ve got four seniors up there,” Parry said, “and if you count the tight end, we’ve got five of six seniors. Those guys did a decent job giving him space and he’s the kind of back who likes to keep it north and south, so, if you give him a little crease, he’s going to keep putting it up in there.”
Parry said that the Red Dragons’ offense wasn’t anything flashy, just mostly power plays and inside zone plays.
“Anytime we really tried to go outside, we had a hard time doing it, so we just kept it between the tackles and our big guys paved the way.”
The coach singled side-by-side linemen Adam McGinnis (6-5, 320) and Sean Weese (5-10, 225).
“We kept going off the right side with those two guys. Also in the mix was center Nick Tress (6-0-260). I think we had only one sack, so our offensive line played really well.”
Molnar had a simple answer for his teammates’ success: “smash-mouth football, old-school,” he said.
Molnar, a 5-7, 165 junior, gave credit to guard Aaron Cline (5-11, 205).
Molnar also scored once in last year’s win over Howland.
“I had a 41-yard touchdown on a bootleg throwback to the left in the third or fourth quarter for the knockout punch.”
On Thursday, after tying the game in the third quarter, Howland coach Steve Boyle said that his Tigers had trouble executing.
“We tried to weather the storm, but didn’t quite do it,” he said. “It was touch-and-go with both teams battling and I’m very proud, but it wasn’t the outcome we wanted. We’ll use it as a stepping-stone, learn from it and get ready for next week [at Hubbard].”
Boyle said Howland’s running game and stopping the run, defensively, are areas that need to be addressed.
The coach described Hines’ 90-yard kickoff score when the 5-9, 160 senior hugged the Howland sideline during most of his rocket-like return.
“He did a good job staying in bounds and his touchdown definitely helped our momentum,” Boyle said.