UNIONTOWN — It was easy as 1, 2, 3 for Girard’s football team Saturday night.
Those digits indicated the jersey numbers of Indians playmakers Ahmad Eggleston, Dan Graziano and Brand Byrd.
The trio combined to dominate Black River en route to a 56-14 win at Blue Streak Stadium in a Division IV Region 13 semifinal.
“I wish we could’ve had them on Week 10 when our field was all tore up,” Black River coach Al Young said with a laugh. “Gosh, they’re fast. You know what’s amazing, and I’m not saying their whole team is not fast and they have a very good offensive line, but you take three kids … those kids are fantastic football players with exceptional speed.”
The veteran coach’s assessment was spot on as the three players needed little time to pick apart the Pirates defense for a 28-point second quarter that all but did in Black River (9-3).
“We knew what we had to do, because we knew they scored quick, just as quick as we did,” said Eggleston, who rushed 11 times for 218 yards. “So we had to put points on the board before they did. We just had a connection, me and Danny, and he’s a good quarterback — one of the best I’ve ever played with.”
With a 14-7 lead after a seesaw first quarter, Girard (11-1) got rolling as Eggleston found the end zone for the first of three times in the first half. He scored from 34, 58 and 70 yards out.
That performance, combined with a 68-yard touchdown pass from Graziano to Brandon Bryd, left the Pirates reeling.
But it all started with the legs of Eggleston, who other than one run for a yard loss had a near-perfect game statistically and used his second-gear speed to torch the Black River secondary.
“We knew with him if we missed, he was gone,” Young said. “We don’t have that speed right now. We just don’t … and to match that, we can’t.
“You could tell those kids were experienced and knew what this was all about, because they were good — very good.”
According to Eggleston, he can’t wait to get the ball when the holes open up in the Indians’ read-option offense.
“Yes, I love it,” he said. “It’s not me, it’s my line. I don’t think (I’ve ever had a quarter like that), but I keep pushing for it to be better.”
Graziano finished the night 6-of-11 passing for 185 yards and a pair of scoring strikes, along with carrying the ball for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Capping the threesome was a 162-yard receiving night from Byrd, who had just five catches, two for touchdowns.
But the Pirates didn’t go down without a fight.
After the dismal second quarter, Black River came out fighting in the third with a pair of stops in the red zone and limited Girard to just two scores in the second half.
Young said little things are just one of the steps his young Pirates — making their first postseason appearance since 2003 — are taking to get back to the tradition that landed the program four straight playoff berths in the late ’90s.
“The one thing about these kids is that they will never quit. They will never stop,” he said. “They have a passion for the game and that’s what made them good football players.”
With leading rusher Andrew Vaughn (21 carries, 81 yards, TD) being keyed on for most of the night, it was Austin Phillips who stole the show.
The fullback blasted the interior of the Girard defensive line for 193 yards on 24 carries, which included a breakaway 50-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Making the feat more impressive was the fact that the team lost running back Jake Sexton in the opening minutes of the game to an apparent head injury, severe enough that the senior didn’t return.
“Coming into this year, we knew we had some good linemen, but we didn’t know that Vaughn was going to be Vaughn and Phillips was going to be … those kids weren’t even varsity players last year,” Young said. “It speaks volumes for them to be able to do the things that they did this year and to take it to the levels that they did. They’ll never quit, you know that, the Austin Joneses and the John Guilfords … they have too much pride.”
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.