The emotion flowed from Eastside following Friday’s semistate showdown with Andrean.
Dax Holman found an empty spot on the sideline and sobbed.
Laban Davis kept his helmet on and strapped up, looking ready to shake off the tears and take the field again.
Coach Todd Mason remained stoic, until asked about his senior class, when he finally couldn’t hold back the emotion.
The Blazers’ 17-14 loss to the Fighting 59ers in the Class 2A North Semistate will surely hurt in the short-term. An admirable comeback from 17 points down fell short, with a completion on 4th-and-6 for Andrean sealing the game in the closing minutes.
The post-game tears came from sadness that Eastside’s run had come to an end, but the outpouring of emotion showed just how much this season meant to players, parents, coaches and fans.
And those memories will last a lifetime, far longer than the pain of defeat.
Eastside did not go down without a fight. When Andrean quarterback Scott Ballentine scored from six yards out with 9:01 left in the third quarter to put the Fighting 59ers up 17-0, the home crowd was silent and the sideline of the Blazers was bereft of emotion. It was the largest deficit this team had faced all year by far, and most didn’t know how Eastside would react.
There were some missed first-half opportunities, with a Davis run inside the three-yard-line on fourth down being stopped by Andrean. On that same drive, Davis seemed to score on a rush from 11 yards out, only for the play to be called back on a hold.
Even the first drive of the game showed promise with Eastside driving inside the Andrean 30-yard line. But a snap over the head of Davis led to a 21-yard loss, derailing the possession.
Andrean was able to execute better in building its lead, but the Fighting 59ers had to hold on for dear life for the win.
Eastside’s fortunes changed on the first play of the fourth quarter when Andrean receiver Alonzo Paul fumbled a reception. It was picked up and returned by Carson Jacobs 31 yards for a touchdown to get the Blazers on the board.
It stirred the crowd, but what truly awoke Blazer Nation was a strong drive after an Andrean punt that saw Davis lead the march downfield, culminating in a pass to Kyler Bibbee for a touchdown with 5:36 left in regulation.
Down three and the crowd rocking, the Blazers needed a stop to put the game in the hands of Davis and the offense. And who was going to bet against the area’s MVP?
“That’s just the way they are,” said Mason when asked about his team’s resolve. “They are fighters. They are great human beings on top of it.”
But Andrean (11-3), led by a sophomore quarterback who hooked up with brother Robby for a long touchdown in the first half, found his elder sibling again on fourth down in Eastside territory with less than two minutes left to move the chains and seal the win.
As the Fighting 59ers celebrating their first semistate championship since 2014, Eastside was left to reflect on what could have been.
“We held them in check, we just didn’t do enough offensively,” Mason said.
The Blazers (13-1) were held to just 32 rushing yards for the game on 26 touches. Whereas all season long Eastside was able to pick up three to four yards a rush, Andrean’s strong, physical defensive front limited the running attack to less than that, forcing Davis and the offense to the air.
Davis delivered to the tune of 138 yards and a score, but it wasn’t enough.
As the pain of the loss subsides, the positives will become more appreciated. This Eastside team captured the first regional title in school history, and just its second sectional championship. The senior class has been a part of both of the sectional crowns the program owns – the first-ever coming in 2019.
Davis will walk away as arguably Eastside’s best player of all time, with a lot of credit going to his senior teammates helping him to be in that conversation.
Collectively, Eastside’s Class of 2022 took Blazers football to another level, a height it had never reached before.
“They are a pretty special group,” said Mason about his senior class as he fought back tears. “I am gonna miss em. We have battled and battled and battled to put ourselves in this position.”
Falling short of reaching state is not the result these Blazers envisioned, but what a ride it was.
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