MARION – Eastside’s first foray into the regional round of the IHSAA football players started well enough.
After a blocked punt out that bounced out of the back of the end zone, the Blazers found themselves with a two-point lead on perennial 2A power Eastbrook at the end of the first quarter.
But things quickly soured.
First, it was Zeke Binkerd running down the left sideline for a 38-yard touchdown.
Then it was Dylan Bragg to Isaiah Dalton over the top for a 46-yard score.
Three minutes later, it was Dalton again, this time on a 5-yard run.
In all, 35 unanswered points.
Whereas Eastside was able to start fast and outlast teams in the regular season (think Churubusco), the Blazers (10-3) couldn’t help but wear down against the inexorable onslaught of the wing-T. If it wasn’t Wyatt Stephenson first through the hole at fullback for Eastbrook, it was Zeke Binkerd on the counter. If it wasn’t Binkerd, it was senior Dylan Bragg keeping it and making a play on his own at quarterback or throwing downfield.
Eastside (10-3) couldn’t keep up, plain and simple. It was grinded down and wore out by a superior opponent that was competing in its 15th all-time regional game, as opposed to the first for the Blazers.
But there was a lot to be proud of on Friday night. Sophomore Laban Davis made a good account of himself, completing his first five passes, including 4-for-4 on the opening drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to Payton Terry.
As the game went on, Davis was put under more and more pressure as the Eastbrook defensive front began to gain an advantage facing off against the Eastside offensive line. The sophomore finished the game 13-of-19 for 124 yards, the touchdown and an interception.
While the passing attack was OK, the rushing game was not good, picking up an average of just 1.4 yards per rush. Once the Panthers diagnosed what the Blazers were doing with their blocking up front, it was bad news.
The lesson on Friday was easy to discern. In winning its first-ever sectional championship, Eastside not only made history, it also received firsthand knowledge of what it takes to compete deeper in the playoffs. Eastbrook is one of those teams that is seemingly always there in 2A, ready to prove itself as a perennial power.
The next step for Coach Todd Mason’s team? Work hard to close the gap. Davis is back next year, as our guys like Lane Cleckner, Dylan Bredemeyer and Lane Burns.
The first hurdle has been cleared. Can the Blazers return to this setting in 2020 and earn a different outcome?
Let’s hope so.