TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — The touchdown combination so nice, the Eagles used it twice.
The Eastern football team trailed non-conference guest Caldwell by a seven points headed into the fourth quarter of Friday night’s bout at East Shade River Stadium, but EHS freshman Brady Yonker tossed a pair of touchdowns passes to senior Mason Dishong in the final period, giving the Eagles a 20-14 victory.
The Eagles (2-0) — winners of back-to-back games to start the year for the first time since 2003 — started the game on the right foot, marching 65 yards on 10 consecutive running plays. Blake Newland gave the hosts their first lead of the night, scoring from a yard out, on a run to the left with 6:42 remaining in the first quarter. Dishong made his first of back-to-back extra-point kicks to give EHS the edge 7-0.
Caldwell (0-2) was held to a single first down in the opening quarter, but got things going on its first drive of the second. A 47-yard run by Caden Moore put the Redskins inside the Eagle 10, and four plays later, CHS freshman quarterback Braxton Dudley found paydirt on a four-yard run. Alejandro Poza made his first of two point-after kicks, tying the game at seven with 4:11 left in the first half.
Eastern came up with the game’s lone takeaway with 3:57 left in the third quarter, as Blake Newland intercepted a pass on the EHS 39. However, the Eagles went three-and-out for the third time in four drives and punted the ball back to the Redskins.
Caldwell took a 14-7 lead just two plays later, as Dudley scampered 65 yards for the touchdown with 1:50 left in the third.
Eastern answered with a 65-yard drive of its own, featuring five carries by Steve Fitzgerald for 48 yards. On the seventh play of the possession, a fourth down from the CHS 10, Yonker found Dishong for the game-tying touchdown pass with 10:24 to play.
After a trio of punts — two by Caldwell and one by Eastern — the Eagles started their game-winning drive at the CHS 31. A trio of carries by Fitzgerald moved the Eagles down to the six-yard line, where Yonker completed his game-winning touchdown pass Dishong with 1:46 remaining.
Caldwell’s last-ditch effort was stymied by a pair of penalties, Eastern regained possession and sealed the 20-14 victory with a pair of kneel downs.
Following the triumph, Eastern head coach Pat Newland talked about his team’s ability to battle back after losing starting quarterback Conner Ridenour to injury early in the first half.
“That’s just the definition of tough,” Coach Newland said. “Our quarterback goes down, we have a freshman come in and he throws two touchdowns in the second half. Our offensive line took care of him.”
Coach Newland also commended his team’s defense, which allowed just two first downs in the entire second half.
“Our defense, the way we played in the second half was amazing,” Coach Newland said. “(Dudley) got away from us once. We knew that he could run, we we’re trying to get our defensive ends out wide, and that hurt us a little bit in the first half. Basically, we told our defensive line, ‘we’re just going to have to play normal.’ We told our outside backers, that’s Blake Newland and Steve Fitzgerald, ‘you’re just going to have to man-up, we’re going to have to play,’ and they did in the second half.”
For the game, the Eagles held a 12-to-5 advantage in first downs. EHS outgained its guest by a 221-to-193 clip for the game, including 183-to-154 on the ground. Eastern was penalized five times for a total of 40 yards, while Caldwell was sent back seven times for 55.
Leading the EHS ground attack, Fitzgerald toted the ball 13 times for 110 yards. Blake Newland picked up 74 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, and caught one pass for no gain. Brayden Smith hauled in two passes for 22 yards and ran twice for two yards, while Dishong’s two grabs totaled 16 yards and two touchdowns.
Yonker completed 4-of-12 passes for 38 yards and two touchdowns, while Ridenour was 1-for-1 for no gain before leaving the game.
Dudley — who led the Redskin ground attack with 80 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries — completed 5-of-15 passes for 39 yards. Moore had 71 yards on 16 carries for the guests, while Whyatt Parks caught a team-best four passes for 28 yards.
Eastern finishes its non-league slate at 2-0, the first regular season EHS is unbeaten out of conference since 2001. It’s also the Eagles first winning-record in non-conference play since 2009.
Next for the Eagles, a trip to Trimble on Friday for their Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division opener.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.