Basking in the post-game revelry full of celebration and vindication, Eastside coach Todd Mason found a few seconds of peace to reminisce.
In the immediate aftermath of his team’s epic 21-16 victory over host Bishop Luers in the Sectional 35 championship game on Friday, Mason thought back to five years ago, and almost immediately got emotional.
“Five years ago, we started a thing called ‘Speed School'” said Mason with moisture welling up in his eyes. “These seniors now were eighth graders then. I told them that they were my five-year plan and if we couldn’t do it, I was out, I am done coaching.
“Look what’s happened.”
There was plenty of emotion and excitement to go around for the Blazers, an improbable win not necessarily that it happened, but HOW it happened.
After surrendering 56 points to the Knights a season ago in sectional play, Mason knew he had to bring a different strategy to the table in a rematch with a team whose offense was even more powerful than a year ago.
So Mason and Eastside went ball control, and it worked to perfection.
Bishop Luers had just three possessions in the first half. Following an Eastside touchdown on the opening possession of the second half, the Knights began drive No. 4 on the night at the 4:30 mark of the third down 21-3.
The defense of the Blazers avoided giving up the big play. It wrapped up and made sure tackles, and it put an inordinate amount of pressure on Carson Clark, forcing the SAC’s all-time leading passer into rushed and inaccurate throws.
Fittingly, it was members of that ‘five-year plan’ of Mason’s that came up big.
Laban Davis, who has already cemented himself as the area’s Most Valuable Player for this season, is continuing his case for the OTH Player of the Year award. The senior carried the offensive load against the Knights. Behind a sensational offensive front, Davis went for 177 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 35 touches. He also threw for 54 yards. No matter what Bishop Luers did – spies, stunts, pre-snap shifts, it couldn’t solve Davis and limit him enough to force punts.
Johnny Eck, a standout defensive back, picked off Carson Clark in the first half on a long throw that killed a Luers drive.
Lineman Isaiah Fuentes entered Friday playing all but one snap over the course of four years at the varsity level. Next to him is classmate Matt Jacobs, a three-year starter that hasn’t missed a game since he was inserted into the starting lineup as a sophomore.
When the Knights did force Eastside (11-0) into tough spots, Mason pulled out all the stops. It opened the game with an onside kick try, but failed. After their first score, the Blazers tried again, recovering it and eventually going up 14-3.
“We entered the game with the plan to go for an onside kick every time and fake punt every time,” Mason said. “But our defense was playing so well that we changed it up.”
Bishop Luers did not score its first touchdown until there was five minutes left in regulation. The Knights (10-2) were able to score twice and had a shot at an onside kick recovery, but Carson Jacobs corralled the loose ball close to the Bishop Luers sideline with 45 seconds to go to clinch the win and vault Eastside into a visit from Eastbrook (11-0) next Friday.
But the Blazers weren’t quite ready to look ahead on Friday night, and for good reason. This team has been doubted and questioned all season long. Sure, it was good enough to dominate the Northeast Corner Conference, but it couldn’t match up with almighty Bishop Luers in the playoffs, right?
All that was put to rest on a chilly evening on the south side of Fort Wayne.
“No one believed in us,” said Davis amongst the celebration following Friday’s win. “We knew from the day we lost (to Luers) last year we were going to come back and beat them. No one gave us a shot and we came out here to prove everyone wrong.”
Eastside did just that, accomplishing the impossible, at least to most people outside of Butler. Over the course of five years, Coach Mason has led Eastside to 45 wins and the program’s first two sectional championships ever. The magnitude of those accomplishments are not lost on anyone, least of all Mason, who swore to those eighth graders five years ago that they would get it done or HE was done.
Coach Mason isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
See you next week Eastside.
And beyond perhaps?
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Your mention of Isaiah Fuentes as only missing one snap since his freshman year should say Matt Jacobs. Matt was starting center as a freshman and Isaiah has played every game since he was inserted in the middle of his freshman year as a lineman.