Staff photo / Greg Macafee. Canfield running back Danny Inglis stiff arms a defender during the Cardinals’ regional final win vs. Chardon last week.
CANFIELD — There’s the age-old adage that defense wins championships and so far through the 2022 season, that has rung true for the Canfield football team.
While compiling a record of 12-1 this season, the Cardinals have only allowed 11.8 points per game and are coming off one of their best defensive performances of the season.
En route to their first regional title victory since 2005, the Cardinals limited the Chardon Hilltoppers — a team that had averaged 30 points per game this season — to just seven points in their 14-7 victory.
“To get out of our region, we knew we were going to have to face Chardon at some point and we knew that we had to play great defense,” Canfield head coach Mike Pavlansky said. “We held them to less than 200 yards of total offense, we held them to less than four yards per carry, we made them punt six times. There aren’t many times over the past six years that that has happened to a Chardon team.”
“We’ve improved tremendously from Week 1 and if we hadn’t, those performances against both Chardon and Ursuline wouldn’t have happened.”
Year in and year out, the Cardinals put an emphasis on defense. Just a year ago they allowed about the same amount of points per game that they have this season and in the 2020 COVID year they allowed just under 13 points per game.
That type of success on the defensive side of the ball comes from the culture that has been developed within the program over the course of Pavlansky’s tenure. Canfield players have always been taught to prepare in more ways than one — by watching film and preparing a game plan throughout a week of practice.
“Our guys believe in the philosophy of our defense, they are comfortable in it and they have been doing it for two or three years, and they understand the nuances of the defense too,” Pavlansky said. “Obviously our defensive staff, Wally Hurdley and his guys, put our kids in great positions to be successful. But the players themselves do a lot of film study, are great in practice and ask a lot of questions. The philosophy of our defense and our guys this year, even if they were new, have grown up in it and have obviously had a great year.”
That preparation and readiness was evident last Friday when the Cardinals took on Chardon, despite falling to them in the playoffs the last two seasons. But, it’s also been evident throughout the season. They pitched two shutouts this season and held six different opponents to single digits.
West Branch and Ursuline, which averaged 45.3 and 37.3 points per game, respectively, were the only two teams this season to score more than 20 points on the Cardinals. The Warriors scored 31 points on Canfield in the opening week of the season and the Irish just recently scored 25 during their rain-soaked regional semifinal matchup at Niles’ Bo Rein Stadium.
During Canfield’s lone loss this season, the Chaney Cowboys tallied 16 points on the Cardinals but part of that scoring output came on a safety and a pick-6 touchdown.
Those three scoring totals were the highest Canfield has allowed this season and the Cardinals learned something from each of them.
“The West Branch game taught us a lot about pass coverages and where we were at that point in the year and just really getting a pass rush and containing that,” Pavlansky said. “With Chaney and Ursuline, again you always learn. They had great skill and great schemes.”
Now the Cardinals will have to put everything they’ve practiced into action one more time tonight when they take on Parma Heights Holy Name (11-2) in the state semifinals.
The Green Wave come into the matchup scoring 30.8 points per game and they have a slew of talent on the offensive side of the ball. It starts with quarterback Jayvon Williams.
During the regular season, the senior signal-caller passed 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,” Pavlansky said. “He’s the fastest, most elusive quarterback that we have 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 yards rushing but senior Kriztion Sanchez led the bunch during the regular season with 867 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“He’s 235 pounds, he also plays defensive tackle and he could be on our 4 x 100 team here, he’s that fast,” Pavlansky said. “So we have our hands full with those two guys.”
The Green Wave lost their only two games of the season in Week 2 and 3 of the season and have scored 35-plus points on six different occasions this season, including their regional final win over Padua Franciscan. So, while knowing Holy Name can score at any given time, Pavlansky knows the Cardinals will need to be sound fundamentally and limit explosive plays.
“If we allow too many explosive plays, it’s going to be a long night,” Pavlansky said. “We have to be in the correct gaps, not get out-flanked and not leave a hole or crease open because if you do they are going to find it and we are going to be in trouble.”