ALBION – Eastside didn’t feel like it had any questions to answer after their its loss of the season last week.
Yet the Blazers still responded loudly.
One week after dropping a late replacement game at Concord, the Blazers went on the road again, this time to Central Noble, and wrapped up a NECC Small School Division title with a 42-7 romp.
“Anytime you are playing for a conference title, you want to play your best football,” Eastside coach Todd Mason said. “We started off a little bit slow, but I thought that Concord (loss) was apparent in the first quarter.
“We got a hold of our guys and talked to them about we can’t allow us playing close with a 5A opponent to effect us with people that are our size. We got that corrected.”
The Cougars (4-4) had their moments when they were able to push back against the powerhouse Blazers. A hurry-up offense helped Central Noble move the ball quickly and efficiently, but Eastside made too many adjustments throughout the first half. Thrice forced into a fourth down, short-yardage situation, Eastside converted three times in the first half. It resulted in the Blazers having so many more extra chances than Central Noble.
Early on, the Cougars had Eastside quarterback Laban Davis scrambling for answers. The run game was stifled and the first time Davis went to the air, his pass was stuffed at the line by the outstretched hand of Ashton Dunlap. It would take a Central Noble mistake, a pass interference call a play later, to get momentum going one way.
Davis then broke off a 28-yard run, pushing through the middle of both lines to set up a six-yard Matt Firestine cut up the left side for the opening score of the game.
Still, Central Noble persisted. The next Eastside drive ended when Isaac Clay blocked a 27-yard field goal attempt by Jaiden Baker. The Cougars opened up Sawyer Yoder to pass more and Will Hoover pounded the run during an offensive flurry. But Central Noble’s best drive of the first half was stopped at the Eastside 21-yard line as the Blazers adjusted to Yoder’s movement outside the pocket and stymied the passing game.
“Obviously that was part of our game plan; we wanted (Yoder) to be uncomfortable and we made him a little bit uncomfortable,” Mason said. “When we got a little bit of heat, he started throwing them up a little bit.
“That kid throws a nice ball, he throws it a long ways too. So very proud of our defense getting some pressure on him and doing some things to make him feel uncomfortable.”
Eastside would add two more scores before the half. Davis would twice convert on 4th and 1 leading to a three-yard Dax Holman rushing touchdown with 2:13 to play in the half.
The Blazers put the ball in the end zone again with 31 seconds to play before the break. After Lane Burns returned a punt 42 yards to the opposing 10-yard line, Davis completed a touchdown pass to Wade Miller for the one-play, six-second drive.
“As a coach, when you have confidence in any play call that you can make, it makes calling a game much easier,” Mason said of the fourth down conversions.
“We’ve just got some guys that the moment is not too big for them. They are going to make sure if we need a yard, we are going to get a yard. And that is a whole bunch of players. Not just Firestine and Laban and Dax. It is an offensive line that says ‘hey, run behind me.'”
Eastside was 3-for-4 in the game on fourth down conversions and also 7-of-14 on third down conversions.
Yoder kicked off the second half by moving the ball across midfield on a 17-yard run. The Cougars continued their momentum on a fourth down conversion option play to Hoover that pushed them to the Eastside 36-yard line.
The Blazers defense answered back, shutting down the Cougar pass game as Phoenix Smyth and Hayden Gardner teamed up for a fourth down sack, giving Eastside the ball back near midfield.
The Blazers then rode the legs of Davis, Firestine and Holman up the field, chewing down the third quarter clock and finishing their first drive of the second half with a four-yard Firestine touchdown run.
“We were running it down their throats a little bit and that is always good when you get to tournament time that you can run the ball effectively,” Mason said.
Defensively, Eastside continued to pressure Yoder in the backfield in the third, preventing Central Noble from finding a rhythm. Lane Cleckner picked up a third quarter interception for the Blazers.
Though just as the night seemed like a complete wash, Yoder wrapped up the third quarter with a beautifully thrown ball that floated right in the hands of Ashton Smith for an 85-yard touchdown with 33.3 seconds on the clock. The play brought the Central Noble sideline and crowd back alive. That was then stymied on the next possession when Carson Jacobs intercepted a Yoder pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown to extend the Eastside lead to 35-7.
The Blazers would add one more score on a 22-yard Davis to Miller hookup with under four minutes to play. Gabe Trevino’s fumble recovery with 1:30 to play for the Blazers allowed them to run out the clock and get back in the win column.
Davis ended the game with 122 yards rushing while Firestine added 56 yards with two scores and Holman ran for 40 yards and a touchdown.