CANFIELD, Ohio (WKBN) – The South Range Raiders have had a long and storied history of football success in their program life. Saturday night they hope to add to that narrative as the top-seeded Raiders make their 15th appearance in the post-season when they host the eighth-seeded Garfield G-Men.
The Raiders have been auspiciously absent from the playoffs the past two years despite having winning seasons. They finished #10 in the computer points following the 2014 season with a 7-3 record, and #11 last year after a 6-4 finish, so they left little doubt of qualifying with a 9-1 regular season record this year.
“It’s fun. We missed being in the playoffs, so it’s good be able to get back,” Raiders Coach Dan Yeagley remarked. “It’s exciting for the team, its exciting for the community and the fans, and it’s also very fun hosting a first round game.”
“We talk about winning the league and we talk about getting into the playoffs and on top of that there are other goals like hosting a home game, not just getting into the playoffs. That’s what the kids wanted, and being the number one seed is just awesome and getting that recognition,” Yeagley said of being a top seed.
“At the beginning of the year some people thought our schedule was weak because of a couple of teams we played, but those schools scheduled tough teams early. Look at Manchaster, we played them and they were 0-3 and then they went on a seven game winning streak. Western Reserve, McDonald are very good and that just shows that our schedule was pretty good and prepared us for the playoffs,” Yeagley added.
The G-Men travel to North Lima with a 7-3 overall record, 3-2 in the Portage Trail Conference having lost to Crestwood, Mogadore and Southeast. This is the fifth playoff appearance for them and their first since 2010.
They are led by a standout senior quarterback in Dalton Fall. The 6’4, 230-pound signal caller has passed for over 2,000 yards on the season and connected on 28 touchdown passes.
“Their team is their quarterback,” Yeagley was quick to say. “He is a really good football player. He is a big kid, and he throws the ball all over the place. He’s very accurate, and he gets the ball out in a hurry. He’s the center of their team, the center of their offense. It’s going to cause some problems for us.”
“We have to play him a little differently than we did with Parker Sherry last week. Sherry, he gets out in the open and he is going to start running. So we had to defend him differently than we do Fall. We have to try to get him to move, we can’t let him sit there all day and throw. My defensive staff has done a great job all week coming up with some packages that we are going to do different things and hopefully get him moving and throw on the run,” Yeagley explained.
“They are not very big defensively. They run (to the ball) really well though. They are a little bit like us defensively. Not very big but their linebackers run, their defensive line run and they have nice sized defensive backs. We are playing ourselves in that sense.”
For the Raiders, quarterback Aniello Buzzacco hasn’t put up numbers like Fall, but he has assumed the starting duties in the second half of the season and led them well.
“It’s a blessing to have two very good quarterbacks. When one gets hurt a little bit the other steps in and Neil has done a great job. He’s a leader, a lot like Seth (Marrow) and Seth is still very active in helping out Neil with what is going on on the field. He (Buzzacco) brings us a little bit of a different spark. It’s fun to watch him,” Yeagley said.
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Saturday’s game will also mark the last one at the Raiders home stadium of Memorial Field as they will move to a new facility next year at the school on route 46. Memorial has been their home since 1955.
“It’s very special,” Yeagley said of playing one last game at the stadium. “We weren’t sure the last regular season game, we were hoping we would get a home playoff game and now a chance to come back home for one last time is just awesome, and a playoff game. And how fitting is it to be home at Memorial Stadium for that last game on that field. It’s a tribute to the past players, the future players, the community and the fans. It’s a tribute to everybody.”
“We’re the game of the week, we’re going to be on TV. So there is a lot of excitement going on right now,” Yeagley concluded.