[ Hailey Hollinger | WOUB ]

Eastern overcomes air-heavy Southern offense to cap off the regular season

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REEDSVILLE, Ohio (WOUB) — Gavin Smith’s five touchdowns helped ensure at least two home playoff games for the Eastern Eagles (8-2) after a commanding 49-28 win over the Southern Tornadoes (4-6) Saturday night.

It’s been four straight years of Eastern dominance in the Battle of the Border, with Southern’s last win over the Eagles coming in 2017. It was no different in 2022 despite the Tornadoes best efforts in the passing game.

The action was slow out of the blocks in the first quarter, after an interception and a pair of punts saw the game deadlocked over halfway through the quarter. 

A slow but steady drive gave Eastern the lead through a three-yard rushing touchdown from running back Rylee Barrett, and the 7-0 scoreline would stick through the end of the first quarter.

Eastern was first to strike once more in the second quarter, and running back Smith would tack on his first touchdown by the time the final whistle blew.

The 14-0 deficit kicked the Tornadoes into gear, and the chunk plays started rolling. Southern quarterback Josiah Smith connected with wide receiver Kolten Thomas for a 15-yard touchdown, and it was game on.

One major storyline of the night was turnovers, impacting both teams. Eastern learned the hard way when they had the ball stripped around midfield, and Southern capitalized with a 40-yard bomb from Smith to wide receiver Derek Griffith. Suddenly, it was knotted up at 14.

The difference in this matchup was the battle in the trenches. The Eastern offensive line dominated up front, and the run game benefited from the blocking scheme.

Smith maneuvered his way into the end zone from 15-yards out to make it 21-14, and the Eagles would take that lead into the half.

Unfortunately for the Tornadoes, that was the closest they would come in this one. Smith grabbed his third touchdown coming out of the half to extend the lead to 28-14.

Southern went back to the air to drive the ball down the field, and brought the game back within one score when Josiah Smith punched it in himself. A short time later,  Smith grabbed his fourth touchdown of the night, punching it in on the goal line to make the score 34-21 after a missed PAT.

Although Smith was in the end zone the most for the Eagles, it was the elusive running of Rylee Barrett that carried Eastern’s success Saturday night. He had 233 of the teams 429 rushing yards on 21 carries, and two touchdowns to tack onto his stats.

Eastern would continue to hammer the ground game and waste clock, bringing the final score to 49-28 when the dust had settled.

Gavin Smith ended the night 149 rush yards and five touchdowns on 18 carries, a string of success they’ll hope to repeat with the playoffs around the corner.

12-seed Southern will regroup and set their sights on the first round of the playoffs, where they’ll travel to fellow TVC-Hocking opponent and 5th-seeded Waterford (7-3), a team they’ve already lost to this season 44-6.

4-seed Eastern prepares for 13-seed Shadyside (3-7) who have been on the downturn since an incredible 2021 season. The Eagles hope to win their first playoff game since the 2020 season.