TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — Unfortunately for the Eagles, they definitely felt grounded for their Homecoming football contest on Friday night.
That’s because host Eastern spent the majority of its game against the Waterford Wildcats in the shadow of its own goalpost, and the Eagles’ offense only amounted 69 total yards en route to suffering a 35-8 defeat inside a chilly East Shade River Stadium.
The Eagles’ offense and special teams struggled against a talented Waterford club all evening, as Eastern endured two turnovers and punted eight times for a 23-and-a-half yard average — thanks to a shank that went for three yards and another that was blocked and recovered by the Wildcats at the Eastern 3-yard-line.
Those two punt attempts, preceded by a fumbled kickoff return, all resulted directly in 21 Waterford points — as the defending Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division champions captured their 13th consecutive league victory.
With the win, the Wildcats raised their record to 5-1 — and remained atop the TVC Hocking at 4-0.
The Eagles, on the other hand, fell to an even 3-3 — and 2-2 in the division.
Waterford also defeated Eastern for the third straight season, and evened their series to 11 wins apiece in the past 22 meetings.
The Wildcats, which entered Friday night’s affair having won their last dozen TVC tilts by an average of 36.5 points, almost pitched their fifth shutout in the now 13-game win streak.
The Eagles, in crossing the Wildcat 44-yard for the only time in the game, averted a blanking with only five minutes and 44 seconds remaining — when Blake Newland capped a six-play, 49-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
A two-point conversion pass from backup quarterback Conner Ridenour to Mason Dishong made good for the eventual 35-8 final.
But besides Braden Bellville running all over the Eagles for a massive 222 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries, the story certainly surrounded the Eagles’ problems on special teams — and the Wildcats working with short fields as a result.
Eastern endured awful field position, reaching midfield just twice prior to its touchdown drive.
Eventually, Bellville broke the Eagles down, as Waterford turned its 15-0 halftime lead into a 35-0 advantage by scoring all 20 of its third-quarter points in a matter of three minutes and 52 seconds.
“We have a fumble on a kickoff to give them short a field in the first half. Then we don’t field a punt that bounces all the way back to the 1-yard line. Now we can’t get anything going and we have a shanked punt. After that, everything just went downhill,” said Eastern coach Pat Newland.
But, with the Eagles’ offense struggling against a stout Waterford defense, it was going to be an uphill battle.
The Wildcats recorded several sacks of Eastern quarterback Nate Durst, who seemed to be constantly swarmed under by the Waterford front line.
All eight of Eastern’s punts followed three-and-out possessions, as the Eagles only had six first downs, including one in the first half and its initial in the second half coming via way of a personal-foul penalty.
The Eagles only rushed for 27 yards on 21 carries, as Durst completed just three of his dozen pass attempts for 14 yards with one interception.
Eastern, which ran just 42 plays from scrimmage, only had three gains of more than nine yards.
Two of those were 13-yard pickups by Blake Newland, who led the Eagles with 31 yards on five carries.
Of Eastern’s 48 passing yards, 34 of them were on a pass-and-catch combination from Ridenour to Matt Blanchard.
The Eagles also endured a couple of dropped passes, and had four holding penalties.
“We’re playing pretty well defensively actually, but it was hard to get anything offensively all night,” admitted Coach Newland. “Field position and two turnovers were huge. Waterford has good athletes on their defensive line, and they rattled us and put us on our heels because we gave up some sacks. We weren’t firing out. Once you lose your confidence as an offensive lineman, everything goes downhill after that.”
It actually got away from the Eagles after the scoreless opening quarter.
After Eastern exchanged three punts with a pair of Waterford turnovers on downs, the Wildcats drove 70 yards in nine plays and three minutes and eight seconds to go up 7-0.
Bellville, before his 28-yard touchdown burst at the 9:19 mark of the second period, bulled his way for gains of 10, eight, seven and finally nine yards.
Cody Harris had the first of three extra-point kicks, and Waterford was back in business just nine seconds later — after the Eagles fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Wildcats recovered at the 21.
At the seven-minute mark of the quarter, Bellville was in the end zone again — this time from 11 yards away as his two-point conversion run made it 15-0.
Of the Wildcats’ 227 rushing yards on 37 carries, Bellville had all but five yards, including his untouched 88-yard up-the-middle jaunt with 3:48 left in the third quarter to make it 34-0.
“We knew he (Bellville) was going to get away sooner or later. We just tried to bottle him up as much as we could. He is just a great running back and we have to get better at tackling,” said Newland.
That TD, which included Harris hitting his final extra point, followed a 47-yard Eastern punt — as the Eagles’ prior two boots resulted in disaster.
After a 47-yard punt by the Wildcats rolled dead at the Eastern 1, the Eagles shanked a punt for a mere three yards, giving Waterford the ball at the 10.
Wildcat quarterback Peyten Stephens, who completed just 2-of-14 passes for nine yards, ran for a touchdown on the following play — as the Wildcats increased the lead to 21-0 with 7:40 remaining in the third.
Just two minutes later, Waterford scored again on an even shorter field — following the blocked punt and with Bellville scoring from just three yards out.
Bellville then had his 88-yard scamper just a minute and 11 seconds later.
The Eagles return home, and return to TVC Hocking Division action, next Friday night against Wahama.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106