Mason Dishong Eastern Eagles
Mason Dishong looks on during the Eagles’ game against the Southern Tornadoes. (Nick Henthorn/WOUB)

Eastern Punches Ticket To Postseason With Win Over Southern

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Coming into their regular season finale Friday, the Eastern Eagles had not been to the playoffs since 2001. This year, however, saw a vastly improved Eagles team jump out to a 7-2 record (4-2 in conference). A win against their cross-county rival Southern Tornadoes would push them into the postseason, while a loss would yield them nothing more than a year of asking what could have been.

The tables had been turned the year prior, as Southern had their playoff dreams dashed by an Eagles squad that played spoiler in last years’ final game. The Tornadoes were looking to return the favor this time around.

It was a game with incredibly high anticipation, a build-up that led to impossibly high expectations that any contest would struggle to satisfy.

At Roger Lee Adams Memorial Football Field, the home of the Tornadoes, those expectations were not met, as Eastern soundly defeated Southern 63-6.

From the opening drive, the superior physicality of the Eagles was apparent. Running back Steve Fitzgerald opened things up with a 6-yard pitch play, before fellow back Blake Newland blasted through the middle for a 55-yard touchdown. 7-0 Eastern.

The two juniors continued their impressive individual campaigns, with the speedy Newland and bruising Fitzgerald complimenting each other well as a thunder-and-lightning combination that confounded the Tornadoes all night.

Newland would closely follow his first touchdown with his second, this one from 9-yards out after an Eagles drive that effortlessly ran the ball down the field. 14-0 Eastern at the 7:47 mark of quarter one.

Southern, on the other hand, got off on the wrong foot from the get-go. Drive-killing sacks, snaps over quarterback Gage Shuler’s head, and penalties frustrated the Tornadoes’ attempts at gaining momentum early on.

It seemed Southern was turning things around at the 4:20 mark of quarter one, mounting a drive all the way from their own 9-yard line into the Eagles’ red zone (thanks in part to a trick play that saw wide receiver Gage Barrett catch a screen pass before throwing the ball downfield, back to his quarterback Shuler). Yet even this flash of life by the Tornadoes was snuffed out by Eastern, as the Eagles buckled down and sacked Shuler to force a turnover on downs.

Eastern’s defense played lights-out, heads-up football all night, registering multiple interceptions and hounding ball-carriers at every turn.

Steve Fitzgerald runs down the sideline during Easterns game against the Southern Tornadoes. (Nick Henthorn/WOUB)
Chase Bailey lines up at receiver during the Tornadoes game against the Eastern Eagles. (Nick Henthorn/WOUB)
Nick Little holds a block during Easterns game against the Southern Tornadoes. (Nick Henthorn/WOUB)
Gage Shuler enters the huddle during Southerns game against the Eastern Eagles. (Nick Henthorn/WOUB)
Blake Newland runs towards the play during Easterns game against the Southern Tornadoes. (Nick Henthorn/WOUB)
Chase Bailey is tackled during Southerns game against the Eastern Eagles. (Nick Henthorn/WOUB)
Blake Newland successfully sells the play fake during Easterns game against the Southern Tornadoes. (Nick Henthorn/WOUB)
Steve Fitzgerald runs to the outside during Easterns game against the Southern Tornadoes. (Nick Henthorn/WOUB)

The offensive line of the Eagles spent Friday night pushing around the opposition, as they opened up holes for whoever was carrying the ball behind them. Evan Randolph, Nick Little, Michael Letson, Will Oldaker, and Isaiah Reed worked a clinic, flawlessly passing off assignments and holding their blocks as long as Newland, Fitzgerald and co. needed.

The final 16 seconds of the first half saw a flurry of scoring, as Southern looked to be putting up some resistance after finding themselves in a 38-0 hole. The Tornadoes piled up chunk plays, with Shuler making things happen with his arm and legs. The senior QB found Chase Bailey on a deep post before scrambling for 11 yards to put Southern in the red zone. He would bookend this offensive burst with a 16-yard strike to the corner of the end zone caught by Gage Barrett. The two point conversion would be unsuccessful, but Southern seemed to have some confidence with just 10 seconds left in the half.

Unfortunately, 10 seconds is all Eastern would need.

The Eagles recovered an onside kick attempt by the Tornadoes, and decided to pass the ball near midfield. This decision surprised everyone, including Southern, who brought eight on a blitz. One quick pass from quarterback Conner Ridenour to Blake Newland later, and the Eagles secured another touchdown before the half, the scoreboard showing 45-6 in favor of Eastern.

As the final seconds of the contest ticked away, the jubilation from the Eagles was palpable, as they punched their ticket to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. Many of Eastern coach Pat Newland’s players had not even been born then.

The Eagles will now look toward their first postseason opponent, the impressive Newark Catholic Green Wave (7-3). The Green Wave are much like Eastern in that they have improved greatly from last season, when they went 3-7, and the two squads will meet on the gridiron next week.