CANFIELD – There is an age old adage that defense wins championships and so far this has held true for the Canfield football team in the 2022 season.
While they have a record 12-1 this season, the Cardinals have conceded just 11.8 points per game and are putting on one of their best defensive performances of the season.
En route to their first regional title win since 2005, the Cardinals limited the Chardon Hilltoppers — a team that has averaged 30 points per game this season — to just seven points in their 14-7 win.
“To get out of our region, we knew we had to face Chardon at some point and we knew we had to play a great defence.” said Canfield head coach Mike Pavlansky. “We kept them under 200 yards total offense, we kept them under four yards per carry, we let them punt six times. It hasn’t happened often to a Chardon team in the last six years.”
“We’ve improved tremendously since Week 1 and if we hadn’t done that those performances against both Chardon and Ursuline wouldn’t have happened.”
Year after year, the Cardinals place an emphasis on defense. A year ago they were conceding about the same number of points per game as they have this season, and in COVID-19 2020 they’re conceding just under 13 points per game.
That kind of success on the defensive side of the ball comes from the culture developed within the program over Pavlansky’s tenure. Canfield players have always been taught to prepare in more ways than one—by watching a movie and creating a game plan during a week of practice.
“Our guys believe in the philosophy of our defense, they’re comfortable with it and they’ve been doing it for two or three years and they also understand the nuances of defense.” said Pavlanski. “Obviously our defenders, Wally Hurdley and his boys, put our kids in great positions to succeed. But the players themselves study a lot of film, are great in practice and ask a lot of questions. The philosophy of our defense and our boys have grown in this year, even if they were new, and obviously have a great year behind them.
That preparation and readiness was evident last Friday when the Cardinals faced Chardon despite losing in the playoffs the past two seasons. But it was also evident throughout the season. They’ve had two shutouts this season and kept six different opponents in single digits.
West Branch and Ursuline, who averaged 45.3 and 37.3 points per game, respectively, were the only two teams this season to have more than 20 points over the Cardinals. The Warriors scored 31 points over Canfield in the opening week of the season and the Irish more recently 25 during their rain-soaked regional semi-final game at Niles’ Bo Rein Stadium.
During Canfield’s only loss this season, the Chaney Cowboys went 16 points clear of the Cardinals, but part of that scoring came from a safety and a pick-6 touchdown.
Those three points were the highest Canfield conceded this season, and the Cardinals learned something from each of them.
“The West Branch game taught us a lot about pass coverage and where we were at that point in the year and just really getting a pass rush and containing it.” said Pavlanski. “There’s always something new to learn from Chaney and Ursuline. They had great skill and great plans.”
Now the Cardinals will once again have to put everything they’ve practiced into action tonight when they face Parma Heights Holy Name (11-2) in the state semifinals.
Der Grüne Welle come into the matchup at 30.8 points per game and have a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Jayvon Williams begins.
During the regular season, the senior signal caller rushed for 781 yards and 10 touchdowns while rushing for another 755 yards and eight touchdowns.
“It’s a more traditional offense (compared to Chardon), but their quarterback is outstanding.” said Pavlanski. “He’s the fastest and most elusive quarterback we’ve seen so far this year and he had over 200 yards rushing last week and they put up 56 points against Padua.”
Holy Name also has four rushers, including Williams, with over 200 rushing yards, but senior Kriztion Sanchez led the field during the regular season with 867 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“He’s 235 pounds, he also plays defensive tackle and he could be here on our 4 x 100 team, he’s that fast.” said Pavlanski. “So we’ve got our hands full with these two guys.”
The Green Wave lost their only two games of the season in Weeks 2 and 3 of the season and have 35+ points on six separate occasions this season, including their regional finals win over Padua Franciscan. Though he knows Holy Name can score at any time, Pavlansky knows the Cardinals need to be fundamentally solid and limit explosive plays.
“If we allow too many explosive plays, it’s going to be a long night.” said Pavlanski. “We have to be in the right gaps, not flanked and not leave a hole or crease open because if you do, they’re going to find it and we’re going to be in trouble.”
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