Alright, time to get real.
Sectionals are behind us, meaning every potential foe from here on out is deserving to be considered a state title contender.
Which area teams have a chance to survive at least one more week? Which are facing uphill battles heading into Friday?
Outside the Huddle has you covered this week, breaking down each local regional matchup.
Next up, Class 2A.
1. FIRST-TIME JITTERS?
For the first time since never, Eastside has advanced past sectionals and will play for a regional championship on Friday in Grant County.
While the celebrating in Butler went for several days after last week’s 34-0 blanking of Fairfield in the sectional final, it is back to business now for the Blazers.
What will the mindset be for Coach Todd Mason’s team? Will his players be nervous?
“Our guys don’t get nervous,” said Mason on Thursday. “They just approach every game the same.”
2. EASTBROOK IS AS EASTBROOK DOES
Coach Jeff Adamson is in his 31st season at the helm of Eastbrook, and the playbook has not changed in those 31 years.
OK, maybe a little bit. But the Panthers are just as they always have been, a run-heavy team that is going to live and die by it, then burn you on one of the few throws they make each game.
This year, Eastbrook has rushed for over 3,700 yards and 53 touchdowns. Same old, same old.
3. TURF BATTLE
While the weather will be chilly, the field at Eastbrook will be in perfect shape to host this regional showdown.
The facility at Eastbrook is one of the best in north-central Indiana, from a multi-level press box to the field turf and seating for fans.
Eastbrook does things right for football games. Eastside fans making the trip are in for a treat.
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
LB LANE CLECKNER, JUNIOR, EASTSIDE
Ask Coach Mason about Cleckner and he will go on for awhile. The linebacker is as fierce as they come at his position but balances that aggressiveness with a good sense of the game.
Cleckner has 96 total tackles on the year, with 21.5 TFL and nine sacks. His play will be pivotal in slowing down Eastbrook’s run game.
RB WYATT STEPHENSON, SENIOR, EASTBROOK
When your team has four guys who have rushed for over 650 yards, it can be tough to narrow down just who is THE running back to stop in the Eastbrook backfield.
Stephenson is the leading rusher with 1,155 yards on the year to go with 20 touchdowns. He serves as the team’s fullback, the first through the hole on a dive. Sometimes he gets the ball, sometimes he doesn’t, but every play Eastside needs to tackle him, just in case.
QB LABAN DAVIS, SOPHOMORE, EASTSIDE
Is the best chance for the Blazers in the hands of a sophomore QB? They very well could be.
Davis has thrown for 1,433 yards and rushed for 616 more. He has thrown just one interception in the postseason and is completing 61 percent of his passes on the year.
Is the sophomore ready for as big of a stage as Eastside has ever played on?
LB JASON HALE, SOPHOMORE, EASTBROOK
As the Blazers have a sophomore stud on offense, the Panthers can reciprocate with Hale. The middle linebacker has amassed 79 tackles and team highs in both TFL (16) and sacks (seven).
It could be one sophomore in Hale trying to slow down another sophomore in Davis.
KEYS TO VICTORY – EASTSIDE
1. STOP STEPHENSON
When defending Eastbrook’s wing-T, the fullback should always be the first priority. As mentioned above, Stephenson will be the first one through the line on most plays. Eastside may assign a defender to tackle Stephenson on every play, making sure he is brought down every time he has the ball.
If the Blazers cannot prevent Stephenson from putting up big yards up the middle, it could be a long night.
2. GET BURNS THE BALL
Laban Davis has been the headliner, but the Eastside passing attack would not be as dangerous without junior Lane Burns, who leads the team in both receiving yards (483) and touchdowns (seven).
Eastbrook’s defense is solid but can be susceptible to big plays in the passing game. Can Eastside stretch the field with the tandem of Davis and Burns?
KEYS TO VICTORY – EASTBROOK
1. WIN THE POINT OF ATTACK
Eastbrook is going to try and establish the run, that’s what it does. That begins in the trenches, where size and technique (more the latter than the former most of the time) gives the Panthers the edge against most opponents.
Eastside must prevent that from happening and hold its own up front.
2. PRESSURE LABAN DAVIS
Davis has been on point for Eastside, but he has thrown nine interceptions on the year.
Being just a sophomore on the big stage, could Davis be rattled with some pressure from the Eastbrook defense that could force the youngster into some bad decisions?
You can bet the Panthers are going to try and do just that.